Thurston Innovation Center

Thurston Innovation Center

Programs that Save Lives


Medical innovation is the application of scientific knowledge and problem-solving for the betterment of the human condition. We can trace every great advancement in the field of neurosurgery to a novel surgical procedure or technology that challenged existing standards of care. ­­Neurosurgery residents at Barrow envisioned a program that provided all the necessary equipment, personnel, and information required to bring their ideas from theoretical concepts to functional devices implemented in a clinical setting. These residents organically created the Thurston Innovation Center in 2015, an embodiment of our commitment to these goals and ideals.

The Thurston Innovation Center’s core mission is to continue advancing education innovation and the field of neurosurgery by providing the future surgeon-scientists with the skills, knowledge, and opportunity needed to revolutionize the field.


See what we achieved in innovation and education by downloading the FY19 Thurston Innovation Center Stewardship Report below.

FY19 Thurston Innovation Center Stewardship Report
FY19 Thurston Innovation Center Stewardship Report
Download Report

Patents and Publications

The Thurston Innovation Center has more than 100 provisional and PCT patents filed, and more than 30 articles published. The center currently comprises a rapid prototyping laboratory with 3D printers and several collaborative partnerships between neurosurgery residents, patent law students, and biomedical engineering students.

Residents have developed 26 new devices or techniques in the first two years of the Thurston Innovation Center, including the myeloshield to protect a patient’s exposed spinal cord during spinal surgery. This device is already having an impact on patient care and surgical results, and with continued donor support, Barrow residents and physicians can continue to pioneer life-changing advances.

The Thurston Innovation Center is educating the next generation of inventors by eliminating barriers to the development of disruptive, new health care technologies. The potential for groundbreaking technologies is enormous, and it is a natural place for Barrow to lead. “A lot of medicine focuses on biology and pharmaceuticals,” says Michael Lawton, MD, Barrow’s president and CEO. “This would be more focused on technology and devices.”


Across America, as shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) imperiled the safety of doctors and nurses fighting COVID-19, the Thurston Innovation Center responded by engineering new N95 substitute masks, face shields, general surgical masks and other PPE devices, through the use of 3D printing!

3D Printing

Watch how a 3D printer prints a skull model.

The 3D printed skulls and spines are cheaper than traditional cadaver spines, have less variability and eliminate the need to handle human tissue. The skull and spine models are used to plan for surgeries, offering greater precision, less risk and a personalized surgery. In something as complex as a scoliosis surgery, as shown in the images below, being able to plan the surgery ahead of time is critical to success.

3D Model and X-ray of patient before and after surgery
Using traditional X-rays and innovative 3D spine models, doctors are able to plan complex surgeries, like this one to correct severe scoliosis.