An Engineer in the Operating Room

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Chris Osswald (BME ’10, Ph.D. BME ’15) is in his seventh year at ClearPoint Neuro, but he only recently learned that when he first started working at the company it was barely holding on, not sure how they were going to keep the lights on. 

Looking at where the company is now, you wouldn’t know it. 

“We went from supporting one kind of neurosurgery procedure, where a good quarter for us was supporting 30 procedures, and now we’re doing 30 procedures in a week. We’ve grown quite rapidly,” says Osswald.

Osswald joined ClearPoint directly after graduating from Illinois Institute of Technology, and he started as a clinical specialist. In less than two years he became the clinical training manager, teaching others the job.

As the company has expanded, Osswald has overseen new product lines. ClearPoint has become a one-stop shop for clinicians and researchers who are developing cutting-edge neuroscience technology and are looking for a path to provide it to patients. 

“We’re not just a device manufacturer, but a device, therapy, and a platform technology,” says Osswald. “We help [companies] get [their technology] precisely into the brain. We provide clinical support, commercial support, R&D, preclinical studies, a whole bunch of different services, and I get to lead some of those efforts.” 

Currently, he specializes in intracortical brain-computer interfaces, developing new software and hardware to precisely implant these devices.

“This area is so new, and we’re helping define what these procedures are going to look like in the next five to 10 years,” says Osswald. “A lot of companies are investing heavily in neuroscience, and it’s really only the beginning.”

Their near-future focus is to aid in making the devices accessible to patients with communication and motor impairments. 

Osswald’s love of the brain began in childhood, watching shows such as Nova with his dad.

“Anytime there was something to do with the brain, you couldn’t pull me away from the TV,” says Osswald.

Ever since joining ClearPoint at least part of his job has always been to support neurosurgeons using ClearPoint products in the operating room. He says by now he’s supported “many hundreds of neurosurgery procedures.”

“In the operating room my job is to be three or four steps ahead of the team, enabling an efficient procedure,” says Osswald. “It’s incredibly rewarding to know that the patient is going to have a lifetime of improved symptom relief or even a potential cure. That’s really gratifying.”

At Illinois Tech, Osswald pursued a range of neurology-related research as an undergraduate before news of his work ethic reached Professor of Biomedical Engineering Jennifer Kang-Mieler, who recruited him as a Ph.D. student. 

Including seizure detection for epilepsy, stroke rehabilitation, and drug delivery to the eye, Osswald says Illinois Tech gave him experience with a range of neurological and central nervous system disorders, treatments, and interventions.

“In hindsight it was amazing that I had all of these applicable experiences,” he says. “Plus, Illinois Tech prepared me to be able to communicate with many different types of people. I don’t think I would have necessarily gotten that at a different school that wasn’t as international or as diverse as Illinois Tech.”

Osswald says he hopes to eventually return to academia to teach the next generation of engineers. For now he’s staying connected with the Illinois Tech community as an industry mentor to current BME students. 

“I think biomedical engineering students are investing in their education with the expectation that they're going to get a job in this field,” says Osswald. “I hope to be able to bring that experience to allow students to see what a career in biomedical engineering can look like.”

In the meantime he says he really loves his job at ClearPoint. 

“Every day is different. I never feel like I’m stuck in a routine. I get to work with very smart people, so it’s constantly forcing me to learn and adapt. It keeps it interesting and keeps me engaged,” says Osswald.

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