Dr. RObert J. Buchanan - podcast interview transcript
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Brad Cooper: 00:19
This is Brad Cooper with Purpose Nation and I'm really looking forward to an amazing talk today with neurosurgeon, Dr Robert Buchanan. Dr Buchanan and welcome to the Purpose Nation Podcast.
Dr. Buchanan: 00:27
It's a great pleasure being here and thank you for honoring me with your request to speak to you today.
Brad Cooper: 00:33
Oh boy. The honor is all mine, uh, in just blessed and glad to have you. It had been such a blessing to get you on the phone. Dr Buchanan has been so busy and he should be and I imagine why. He is a neurosurgeon and then doing some amazing work. So thank you. Yeah, I guess we've had a rocket scientist and so now we have a brain surgeon, so I feel like we're complete now. You know the saying, you know, it doesn't take a rocket scientist or it doesn't take a brain surgeon. Well, in Dr Buchanan case, it actually does. Dr Buchanan is an Associate Professor at the University of Texas. He's also the director of epilepsy surgery and deep brain stimulation at Seton Brain and Spine Institute. It's a great institution. They're in Austin, Texas, and he's also the Chief of Neurosurgery at Seton Family of hospitals as well as the Chief of Neurosurgery at the Seton Brain and Spine Institute.
Brad Cooper: 01:19
So in addition to being a neurosurgeon, Dr Buchanan is also a psychiatrist. This is really interesting. He was appointed by Pope Benedict to serve on the Vatican's International Bioethics Committee. Uh, the IBC. It's also called the, uh, I guess it's called, I don't know if that's the committee you're on and it's called the Pontifical Academy for Life. And on top of all of this, he's also a devout Catholic as I understand it and love to hear more about all of that. So, um, Dr. Buchanan, just tell us a little bit about the work that you are doing there at the Seton, Brain and Spine Institute. What kind of work are you doing?
Dr. Buchanan: 01:50
The reasons that I'm here primarily because of Ascension Healthcare and Seton Hospital System, which is a Catholic hospital system. And what's wonderful about the Ascension Health System is that we refer to all of our hospital systems and other clinics as ministries. So the system is a very, uh, serious about the Christian Catholic message. All the associates, physicians and others that sign on or sign a pledge to uphold the directives of the Catholic Church as far as the, uh, intersect healthcare. And it's, it is truly a ministry where we took care of the whole gamut of God's creation from the very wealthiest oil barons here in Texas to those people that are homeless and have absolutely no other safety net to help them. The Seton Healthcare System managers through God's grace, I think, and the prayers of the Daughters of Charity who founded the system to take care of all people. The Ascension Healthcare is the largest not for profit healthcare system in the country. It's also the largest Catholic healthcare system, obviously, sort of an outgrowth of that. I'm not sure, but there are hospital systems. The two largest systems are in Indianapolis and here in Austin, the other ministries throughout the United States. The headquarters of Ascension Health Care is in St Louis, Missouri, where I also happen to go to medical school. The other wonderful thing that we have here in Austin and at Seton is where the a clinical partner to the newly founded University of Texas Dell Medical School, which is the first medical school founded in a over a hundred years at a Tier 1 University of Texas, has a tremendous, uh, institution has the second largest endowment of any university in the country, a second only to Harvard University. So it's a wonderful academic institution. And we have joined with them as their clinical arm to train the medical students, continue with a clinical and other types of research here. I also have roles on the University of Texas campus as well. We have a new, newly founded organization called the Neuro Interface Initiative, which is a group of 60 scientists on the campus that are trying to study how to understand the way the brain communicates not only with itself but in brain computer interfaces. And I was elected to be the director, the first director of the, of this institute. So there's a lot of very interesting things going on here in Texas.
Brad Cooper: 04:27
That's amazing! I definitely want to hear more about that. That was sort of in my notes there to ask you about the stuff that Elon Musk is supposedly working on an it sounds like some similar things. So let's hold on that for a second. I want to talk a little bit more just about the or started the day to day work that you're doing. I know you're in there, I believe, hands on and surgery and believe you're, you know, working with folks who are experiencing either epilepsy or other types of neurological disorders and things that you're working on and you know, you have some pretty interesting stuff that you're doing to sort of help some of these patients.
Dr. Buchanan: 04:54
Tell us more about the institute there and more specifically about, uh, you know, some of the work that you do. So the Seton Brain and Spine Institute is a, a grouping of neurosurgeons, neurologists to a physical medicine and rehabilitation doctors. And we have some orthopedic spine surgeons as well to try to provide a total 360 comprehensive approach to patients who have neurological issues, mind, body and spirit of very important to the physicians and the institute. I'm the lead physician of nine other neurosurgeons as their chief. Uh, we have a highly specialized group of neurosurgeons where we have the right person for the job. For instance, I only do brain surgery for the most part for diseases, like epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, other tremor disorders, pain disorders, and I'm also a fully trained a psychiatrist.
And so part of my interest of trying to modulate the disorders of the nervous system, we also have a surgery program for patients who suffer from certain psychiatric disorders, which is pretty unique and one of the few programs in the country which has to obviously be approached with great care. And, uh, we have a committee and a board that helps us to really assess the patient's real needs because psychosurgery as it has been known, has had a pretty difficult history, marred with a lot of abuses of patients who were very ill with depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, other things who may not have received the best care and were unable to advocate for themselves. And maybe certain physician scientists took advantage of that situation knowingly. Unknowingly. We've corrected all that now in modern day care of patients with psychiatric disorders that respond quite amazingly to certain surgical procedures. We have, I see patients in the clinic, um, mostly referred to me from around not only Texas, but also around the country who come to our University of Texas Seton comprehensive epilepsy program, which again is another grouping of highly specialized doctors. I'm only one part of that is the adult epilepsy surgeon. But we have expert neurologist, neuropsychologist, social workers, others. And again, they get a three 60 view. And I eventually see the patient, if it's been decided that the patient may need some kind of surgical intervention to either cure or palliating. Try to make better their seizures, seizure disorder through surgery. And the same is true of our movement disorder center. I work with other experts in their field and I'm the surgeon who places deep brain stimulators into the, uh, into various parts of the brain to try to help modulate disease activity of the brain, which helps considerably in diseases like tremor, essential tremor of Parkinson's disease and other disease called Dystonia than I do a lot of surgery for pain surgery. Kind of a, that's not always conventional, but we know that can work for patients, especially patients that are at the end of the line. Pain is a horrible disease because it encompasses both the kind of psychology as well as the physiology of a, of a patient. They get into an amazing kind of rut where all they can think about as the pain is so dominates their thinking. So we do have abilities to alleviate the pain all the way from spinal cord stimulation to going to stimulate the brain to placing narcotic medications. Very low concentrations of them directly in and on the brain or spinal cord. So there's always a way of relieving the pain.
So aside from all of that, I also have a laboratory, the research that we do, I'm lucky enough and privileged enough that many of the patients that I interact with that come to me for clinical help, we also give them the opportunity to participate in certain research programs that we currently have in place. We're very interested in studying the kind of electrical connectivity and circuitry of the brain to try to fully understand a memory, certain emotion, emotional underpinnings of memory as well as a navigation of the memory of the 2014 Nobel prize was won by a team from the Netherlands and from here in the United States, figuring out what are called the grid cells in the brain. And that was done in a mouse. Uh, we, uh, just published a paper five months ago in a journal called the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. It's a pretty good journal where we showed the same kind of cells that we have discovered in typified in the human brain from the same area. And they act a little differently than the cells do in the mouse, which is not have a great surprise to many people. We see that a lot when certain scientists do animal research and other scientists try to then follow up with a human research.
Sometimes things are found differently, especially in the cancer world right there. They've been able to modify or cure a lot of cancers in mice and other rodent models in very, very few drugs have been translated to the human person. Unfortunately with cancer, we found this difference and these are patients who I put electrodes on their brain anyway. We put electrodes on their brain as many. Sometimes it's 256 electrodes that go onto their brains sometimes within the structure of their brain and they sit with the electrodes in their brain for two, three weeks while we're waiting for them to have lots of seizures. We then can localize the seizures based on all of those recordings and once we localize them, we're able to then take those electrodes out of the brain in a second operation and either remove in the area of the brain that's causing the seizures or we can place a permanent electrode system onto the brain, which can either you know, almost cure or just palliated make their seizure disorder must much better. So in the context of doing these intracranial or inside the skull electrode studies, I then asked patients since you're going to be sitting there for three weeks, pretty comfortable eating, drinking, talking to your friends, watching TV anyway, would you like to participate and you know, do some video game. And thankfully most patients say, sure, sure, I'd love to contribute to this. Right? And if, uh, I can make some contribution and help you learn something about the brain and the brain of patients with epilepsy, then they are very gracious and noble really to allow us to do that. And then in the Parkinson's disease world, we've done similar things where we've measured chemicals from the brain as it relates to emotion as relates to memory. Once again, and our newest interest here is we're trying to, because again, you know, I'm in a privileged position as a neurosurgeon. I don't need a mouse and I don't need a dog and I know to do the studies on I have a patient who actually has the real disease, not some induced version of not really the disease but something similar, you know.
So if you have a patient with Parkinson's disease and we tell them that we just want to measure some inflammatory molecules from their brain or some of these abnormal proteins that Parkinson's patients have in their brain, they're very happy and they say please, if I'm not going to be hurt, have at it. So those are the kinds of things that we do on the research and discovery side. As a physician, I'm not just interested in Gee whiz kind of moments in science. Those are fun too. But because I'm at the bedside and I'm holding the hand of the patient and I'm looking into their eyes, I'm looking into the eyes of the family members. I mean physician scientists, we really want to move the ball past the goal line to be able to make major inroads into disease cures and prevention.
Brad Cooper: 12:32
This is good stuff. Yeah. This is amazing. I would do a podcast like on each one of those things that you just mentioned. I think one of the things we're just hoping to encourage people to do is use their gifts that they've been given by God like you have and just use them for the good of people and God's kingdom. And so that's just an amazing work and these are very debilitating, you know, with pain and with epilepsy. Some of the other diseases that you're working with. I mean these are devastating diseases. I would have assumed for not only the patients but the families.
Dr. Buchanan: 12:56
Well they're chronic or progressive, most patients with epilepsy are able to have their disease controlled for the most part by taking medications, either one or two, but there is a percentage of patients with epilepsy, it could be as high as 10 percent where they don't respond to the medications. They continue having seizures, disruptive and they can't drive. They can fall down stairs. The incidence of sudden death in patients with epilepsy as much higher than the general population. So those are the patients that eventually come to these highly skilled comprehensive centers like the one I'm a part of where we're trying to not only learn something about their epilepsy but trying to help cure it or at least make their life more livable...There are other diseases, there is Parkinson's disease. I mean this is a progressive disease. It is a devastating disease and its later stages. So if we can figure out a way of preventing that and or curing it, obviously that would be a wonderful blessing.
Brad Cooper: 13:52
Amen. God bless you and all this work. Tell us also about the Vatican International Bioethics committee and that you are on. I don't know if that's still ongoing. Yet another thing you have going on.
Dr. Buchanan: 14:05
Well, that's a great honor I have. I grew up on the south side of Chicago and a very devout Catholic family. Everybody watching the pope say midnight mass on tv back in the day. I mean, there was a very, uh, kind of a spine tingling for any Catholic. We see the Vatican as one of our sites of pilgrimage is certainly the nerve center of the church, the holy season, the nerve center of the church. So, you never think that you're going to be sitting at the dinner table or staying in the same house with the Pope one day. And uh, so that's been a real. I spent a great honor. I was invited to join, become a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life. This is an organization that was founded by Saint John Paul the II, I think maybe 25 years ago now. And it was in response to a need within the church and certainly kind of centralized at the Holy See of tapping into the vast resources that the church has internationally of specialists, whether they're theologians, philosophers and ethicists, various to the sciences, anthropology, sociology that can come together from different geo cultural backgrounds. But we all share our common faith within the church to come together and begin to address issues that are confronting the church presently. And then to try to look into the future, you know, none of us are soothsayers, but we certainly can see things coming around the pike. So, uh, under a Pope Benedict's Pontificate, I was asked to join and it was a great honor. I joined and Pope Francis recently, uh, reappointed a number of us within the academy. There are a hundred and 20 members or so in the academy. Pope Francis has just renamed approximately a 90 or so of those 120 and then named a group to replace some of the outgoing members. The term of service was initially conceived to be a five year term. Currently we've got one major meeting a year. We just finished one in October. The next one is at the end of June that I'm getting ready to go to. We have a public part of the Academy meeting in another part of the Academy meeting are closed sessions as well as small sort of breakout groups or working groups based on lang or language, so there's English group, a couple of English groups, French group, Spanish group, Italian. I don't want to forget them that break out headed by a group leader to facilitate a responses to certain questions that are confronting the church. The Academy just established five sub groups within the Academy that are going to address exactly what you said. One of them, and I've asked to be the chair of that committee. I'll find the time I guess.
Brad Cooper: 14:05
I don't know now how you have the time (laughs).
Dr. Buchanan: 17:00
I don't know either actually at this point, so I'm going to have to pray to be like translocated like Saint Francis, but translocate places, but our Legionary of Christ. Father Carerra is my co chair in a working group called Neuroscience Consciousness and Neuro Ethics. So we are now, this is a brand new thing that the Academy has begun, so we're now formulating what we're going to talk about, whether it's going to be technological enhancements that are going to be attached to the brain and spinal cord, whether they're going to be pharmacological enhancements that are going to be attached. What is the definitions of these altered states of consciousness, what role will AI have in the future of the human person and the anthropology of man. And that's the question that I can't answer, but I can contribute to some of the anthropologists and sociologists that we have now in our working group of 25 people that volunteered and we hand picked. There's another one on a sort of genetics. There's another one on robotics and I think transhumanism. Again, the Holy See is trying to get in front of some of these topics so we will be able to think through them.
Brad Cooper: 18:09
Well that's great. It's all stuff that we obviously had been just been tracking and keeping an eye on it and you know, it's stuff that, you know, I would love for whatever communication through their site and we'll retweet it and we'll post it and we'll uh, we'll get the news out, you know, whenever you have some kind of a, either guidelines or findings or kind of recommendations or anything that comes out of those meetings and your work there because these are, as you said, I mean these are issues and it's great that the Vatican and the Church is trying to keep up with it because it's moving pretty breakneck pace right now in terms of all these different issues that we're going to run into. Not too long from now or if not, now.
18:09 We're here. We're here in a lot of them.
Brad Cooper: 18:44 Well Dr. take us if you could a step back. So you mentioned, I think the south side of Chicago and growing up and what were some things that got you interested in the work that you're doing now and as you feel called into medicine and even into, you know, brain science at an early age? What were some of the things that you wanted to do as a kid or be as a kid?
Dr. Buchanan: 19:02
Wow, so I'm only 53 but it's a very long time ago. So my initial thoughts about vocation were like a lot of young boys was to priesthood and I grew up on the south side and we had a small parish there run by Slovenian Franciscans who I really loved and we love to death. They were great man and they were great role models and so they motivated me and many other boys in the parish obviously to consider priesthood. And then I went to Catholic Grammar School, Catholic high school that I ended up going to the University of Chicago, which was very secular and that was one of the great disappointments of my grandmother. My Grandmother Mcnulty, who was very disappointed that I chose not to go to Notre Dame. Uh, she can't imagine how any Irish boy would ever decide not to go to Notre Dame and would go to the University of Chicago. That was a great experience in and of itself. And there I still maintained my interest in vocation to priesthood. When I was a younger person, my spiritual direction came from the uh, Opus Dei, you know, I was getting spiritual direction at Opus Dei as a high school student. And then once in college and into medical school, I transitioned to a speaking to the Jesuits and felt I had a vocation to the Society of Jesus in my spiritual direction came from them, which also made it easy for me then to choose where I was going to go to medical school, which was in St Louis and St Louis University, which is the largest Catholic Medical Center in the country. So not everybody knows that. And also a university which is run and owned by the Jesuit Order. At University of Chicago.
I was interested in philosophy and the common core of study was very, very strong at Chicago, so basically everybody graduates with the same coursework, with a little bit of the extra common core, goes down for two, three years. I did enough biology and enough physics and chemistry and that kind of stuff to be able to go to medical school. But I was thinking I was going to be a priest doctor at that time and whether it was going to be mission work or what whatever was going to be. Went to St Louis University and then decided I had some conversations with myself. Conversations with the Jesuit Order about what kind of specialty one would choose if you want it to be a priest. It was decided that I should pursue psychiatry which makes sense. So I went to the University of California, San Diego. And at that time I lived in a rectory, was sort of walking the walk, talking the talk, saving my money, all that kind of stuff. And not yet giving it back to the order. But that was, you know, going to be in short time my plan and then enter novitiate and do all the things that you have to do to become a religious order priest. And then I met my wife (Brad laughing). Thanks be to God I have to say because change plans, change of plans and, and um, and she's a therapist. She's a psychotherapist and she was doing her psychotherapy internship, practicum training at our psychiatry clinic at the University of California, San Diego, UCSD. She came in and, you know, she kind of said to me, you know, she's looking at me and she kind of looked at my hand and she said, " Dr. Buchanan, are you married?" And I said, " No, I'm not married, but I'm kind of in the preamble stages of formation for priesthood." And she just kind of looking at me because she was baptized Lutheran. She had no idea what I was talking about. Then she says, "Well, do you want to go out for dinner?" And I said, "OK, I'll go for dinner."
So I spoke to my spiritual director who was a Jesuit psychologist and he said, "Why not go out to dinner? God, you know, call these people in different ways and I know you're living in a rectory and you're doing work here at the parish and you're having dinner with the Jesuits a couple times a week here and puts you should go out to dinner with her." And you know, that was it. I fell in love with her and I had dated women throughout my, throughout my high school and college years some, but in medical school and then beyond, I sort of made that decision, which is a good decision. And the, you know, even the Pope Benedict says, you know, there comes a point where you decided if you want to be a priest, you got to start thinking like living a celibate type lifestyle. And I realized that I was called to married life and I wasn't called to priesthood. It was a very good decision and it worked out well. And you know, for me, this kind of a joke, that father's name is father Joe Spieler who was my spiritual director. You know, he said to me, when we're talking about sort of me deciding that I was changing my sort of my life vocation to married life and not to priesthood, he said. Cause I said, you know, I, you know, celibacy this and you know, they'll, he said, "Nah, for you, you can, and it would've been a problem with obedience." He said, "I think you could have done celibacy and you know, you know, he said, are you obedience would have been the problem." which is probably true. So I guess I'm the chief of neurosurgery now. I still. Yeah, yeah, sure. Cardinal. So that was the journey. And I think it's a good journey and I talk to young men still. I do a lot of work here in the diocese of Austin because I think that's an important thing. And I think Vatican II helped the church understand that you don't have to be a priest or a nun to be holy and to live a sanctified life, an important life and a holy life. And for me, even growing up, there was a little lost on a lot of us, you know, the priests and the nuns were holy and the rest of us were lay people and it, you know, it didn't come until I became more mature in the faith to really understand that, you know, married life, single life, religious life, it's all the same.
It's a call to holiness. I think Vatican II highly criticized for many things, but the life of the laity, the role of the laity and the elevation, you know, it's not just talk how beautiful marriages. I mean it's a reality, you know, and I think that's a wonderful thing that sort of was like a Eureka moment for me. Also meeting a woman who I really loved and was very holy. She became Catholic. You know, she really didn't understand much of this and she's become a very happy and fulfilled Catholic. I think some people lose that too if they're not. They don't fully understand what the Church has real teaching is on who's going to be holy. I mean, most of our saints who are priests and nuns. So the Church's holiness emanates from the people in the pews. They've kept this thing together for 2000 years, you know, and so I'm a big fan of the laity. I love our clergy and I love, I love our religious, but most of us are the lay people and uh, really we're also called to holiness and whatever place we are in the world.
Brad Cooper: 25:28 Right. Well that's great. That's an awesome story. But I guess God put your, your future wife there in your path and it sounds like it's just, uh, amazing, uh, thing you got going there and you know, Amen to everything you said, especially about the laity and I'm sure you'd agree to. I mean, a lot of people have that. It's almost like to just say it sort of a false choice where you have to think, well, I gotta to go serve in the church or I can go have a career doing something. I would only guess that you would agree with that. I mean, in the work that you do, you know, you're serving the Lord and with some pretty amazing work and, you know, helping, uh, neighbor and loving our neighbor.
Dr. Buchanan: 26:00 Yeah, for sure. And I, I'm lucky that I have and I don't know how other people do it, but I mean, I'm choosing a career in health related field. I mean, there's a physician every day, you know, I'm at the bedside, um, holding somebody's hand and being at Seton family here of hospitals mean people have read about me sometimes they come to me specifically because they've read something about me and the Pope or me in something and they want to pray with me. There crucifixes on every wall and every room in the hospitals. And that is, you know, so it is a holy place. The hospital itself is a holy place. Most of Christ miracles in the gospels are healing miracles. You know, his first miracle was of course was changing water to wine, but most of his miracles in the gospels are healing miracles. So there's all kinds of healing. There's all kinds of healing, spiritual healing to obviously anybody. You don't need to be a psychiatrist or other kind of physician to to heal someone, so the healing ministry can be extrapolated to anything we do.
Brad Cooper: 27:02 So, in medical school and then now where you're at, I don't know if there was somewhere in between there, you're a university of Chicago, which is obviously secular, but did you have some exposure to some conflicts there where ethically or thinking about moral issues, or other, either professors or things. So somebody thinking about going into the medical field, what did you run into if anything and what should they expect if they were to go into the field of medicine?
Dr. Buchanan: 27:23 There are, of course, the University of Chicago was an unbelievably secular place, you know, it's one of the top universities in the world, so some really, really smart secular thinkers. Now, the good thing about secular humanists is for me, they're one breath away from being evangelical Christian because they almost believe everything that a Christian, a good Christian, accrued, good Jew or a good Muslim believes about. Treat others as you'd want to be treated, but it's never done in the name of God. It's just sort of done in the name of Terra or the earth or Fletcher. They really, for the most part, believe everything we do. It's just who's motivating it? who's powering it? So that's the beauty of really, really smart humanists, to be honest with you. That for me, that they should be the sort of the easiest people for us to use our Aristotelian and Thomastic logic to convince why there's just that little piece of their life missing. And you won't believe how wonderful your humanism will be if it's really Christianity. I have run into and I gave an interview yesterday too where, you know, one of these questions on what does the Pontifical Academy for Life do? You know, and you know, and Pope Francis I think has rightly said that when we talk about life issues, there's more than just the beginning and the end of life. I mean, they are very, very important that we as Catholics to have been very staunch defenders of the beginning of life, right? And abortion. And also at the end of life, euthanasia, there's a lot of stuff that goes on in between, but a lot of the things that I think young people or other people in daily life and I've encountered too often centers around the beginning of life, the abortion issue. I've met some really wonderful people who are pro choice and they're often, for me, they are pro choice for kind of all the wrong reasons, you know, and that is probably the biggest thing that I've confronted being trained as a physician. Not so much at St Louis University. It was one of the other reasons I went to a Catholic medical school. So I wouldn't have to participate in this kind of stuff. You know, where the end of life issue. There was never an end to end of life issue. You know, we had a great, a moral theologian, bioethicist there, guy named Father Kevin O'rourke, who was one of the great pillars of a Catholic bioethics who said since died. But we talked about these issues a lot was when I went to the University of California, San Diego, which is another secular place I was there, I was in San Diego, UC San Diego for 12 years, and I was kind of an anomaly.
Oftentimes I would actually be almost made fun of at times. They'd say, well, we better ask Father Buchanan about this one, you know, that kind of stuff, you know, pray, please pray for us father Buchanan because we will be talking about things or people where we're using embryonic stem cells for things or there was some issue, there was some people sort of using maybe even fetal tissue that wasn't really properly put under any particular irb. They were taking fetal brain tissue from aborted fetuses and bring it right to their laboratory to do research, you know. And so I think Catholics, all believers will be confronted with those things along the way. I was just, uh, I get phone calls and I was called by a young lady recently who is an Obgyn resident, not at our institution, but another institution, secular institution. And she's now, according to her been kind of ostracized and frozen out from her colleagues and the fact that they where she's at because she said, well, yeah, I don't want to participate in the abortion rotation kind of thing. And they were, you know, just now she's kind of persona non grata with that group. So unfortunately, you know, for me too, I have never been shunned. I've kind of worn my catholicism and my belief like a badge of courage in a way. And I've given by given young Catholics a little bit of... It's important not to ever deny your faith if asked, but you have to decide how much you're going to wear it on your sleeve. You know, we do live in a secular world. You know, you have to pick your battles and you have to pick your battles at the right times. And if you're in the middle of training or you're trying to get a promotion and you're in a Wall Street company and you want a promotion, it's probably not that. That might not be the moment to be walking around with your Douay Rheims Bible on your right hand and your catechism and your left, right. You know there's like, don't ask, don't tell at this point, right about your Catholicism. You can't wear that. If somebody says you're not a Christian are you. Well I mean, then your response is, of course I'm a Christian, I'm a happy, glad Christian, but you don't always want to wear that on your lapel, especially in the early part, young part of your career. Not Everybody is a fan of Christianity. Christ himself. I mean, I don't know how we as Christians can expect not to suffer or to be persecuted when our master and Lord is the quintessential victim of slain lamb.
Brad Cooper: 27:23 Right.
Dr. Buchanan: 32:16 So a little bit of advice I've given to younger people and others to never deny your beliefs, but pick your battles wisely when you're going to enter in because you're one of few people in a room usually.
Brad Cooper: 32:31 Well that's absolutely something we've heard again and again in the podcast and the other thing, I don't know if I've heard it directly, but it sort of seems to me that if you establish yourself as you have as a leader in your field, I mean just be good at what you do, you seem to gain a little bit of extra respect from colleagues and those who might belittle or persecute you because you're an amazing neurosurgeon and that just alone, you know, at least get their ear and commands the respect even if they don't agree with your faith.
Dr. Buchanan: 32:56 Sure, sure. Yeah. So you have to. You have to be good at what you do. I would argue for us on the podcast that maybe it's through our spiritual life, our yearning for a close relationship with our Lord, his blessed mother that we also fall under their protection. So maybe that's why we're doing as well too. We're asking Christ to really work through us and if we've gained favor, I mean, of course the grace that comes, we don't earn, you know, it's given freely by God. You know, maybe by doing that God is acting through us and we're asking that we can be as good as what we're gonna do. We're going to put all of our human efforts into it as long as in our talents, as long as God, you know, sort of pushing us from behind, giving us a little kick now and again to do that. So that can be internalized. I would love people running around with the Vatican flag and the American flag. Quite honestly. I loved both of those flags, but do you have to be. I don't want to use the word sly, but you have to be logical about a where you are in the secular world.
Brad Cooper: 33:54 So in terms of the work that you're doing and the trends that you've been seeing and you've been looking at this for many years and seeing some of the changes, what would you say if you had a big one or two things that you're most excited about? Is there some new development, new technology? You know, some of the work that you're doing that you think, you know, maybe in the next few years to 10 years or so, shows the most promise to help, whether it's an epilepsy or some of these other diseases that you're working with.
Dr. Buchanan: 34:16 So I, I'm lucky, as I said right off the bat, to be on this particular campus at the University of Texas in Austin. I have some amazing collaborators. There's a few things that we're doing here that I think are going to be game changers. I also saw on your sheet that you gave me Brad that you mentioned Elon Musk. Well, we've been in conversations with Elon Musk, our group, uh, as well as Brian Johnson from another large company. I mean the Elon Musk has said that he's putting a billion dollars of his own money into the development of proper electrode systems and systems that can analyze the signal that's coming from the brain to create good brain computer, brain machine interfaces for the future of mankind. Now, I have a collaborator here in a guy named Dr. Chong Xie who's a brilliant Harvard, Stanford for train, biomedical engineer who's come up with a highly flexible electrode that doesn't cause any real damage or inflammatory reaction scarring in the brain and we're collaborating together of how to understand to put these in human brains, to treat epilepsy, to understand more of the brain. So this is a very real and a very exciting kind of thing on the horizon because that's one of the problems right now. If you have a patient that has been a horrible accident or is paralyzed like a spinal cord injured patient, we're able to put electrodes onto the brain and try to do a work around the spinal cord which had been damaged and connect that to, uh, you know, to a computer, to a cursor, to a robotic arm, that kind of stuff. But we can't get stable recordings from the brain because of the electrodes. They cause all kinds of damage to the brain when you put them in with Dr. Xie's Technology here at the University of Texas, we may be able to not just 200 electrodes but 20,000 of these micro electrodes that are like one tenth the size of a human hair that can do all kinds of unbelievable technical things and so I'm excited about that and so is Elon Musk and Brian Johnson from a company called colonel, so that's getting a lot of attention. The stuff that we're doing and our latest paper and the proceedings of the national academy where we're able to kind of understand the way the brain now is communicating with itself how it's processing and constructing three dimensional space. All that stuff is also very exciting. It's like once you split the atom, you know, what are you going to use that information for? Right?
Brad Cooper: 36:38 Yeah. That's amazing stuff. With robotics and ai and some of the stuff you're talking about. And then the Elon Musk has been talking about, you know, so well the media gets, goes right to well here's all the bad things that people are going to do with this. And then, you know, Christians also seem to go to, well you know, here comes big brother inside my brain now. So I mean there's probably some, there's some legitimate ethical concerns about any technology I'm sure. But are there any ethical concerns, obviously nothing that you're doing there at your hospital or your research. But I can imagine there are some concerns we might have about people who might use this not for good purposes, for, for enhancements or something.
Dr. Buchanan: 37:13 ,Well without a doubt, you know, 50 years after the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to here now, both dead Dr. Teller, Dr. Oppenheimer, Einstein himself to speak about, oh boy, oh boy, you know, when we split the atom and we wanted this to be a device that would deter any further war and deter or killing people, be prohibitive. And instead it was used... and that can be argued on another 50,000 podcasts about whether or not...the use of the bomb (was justified, etc.) ...splitting of the atom was a remarkable human achievement. So what do you do with that? You know, same thing, it will be a remarkable human achievement once we figure out more than five percent. And that's probably what I think we know about the brain right now, by the way. So we're in no threat in the near future of creating cyborgs, completely interfacing with the human brain. So if people worried about that, we're a long way away from that. But 200 years from now, what will people be doing? Well, they'd be uploading, downloading. How much do you have to have machinery or technology and directly interfaced with your biology, your tissues to still define yourself as a human person. Right? And when do you stop being human? When do you start being a Cyborg? Cyborgs have human rights if they can think. And uh, you know, so these are the issues, you know. So I think in the academy too we like to think about thou shalt instead of always now shalt not. So there's two ways of approaching ethics, you know, you get all these great technologies, well hey, let's do this. And so most of the technologies that we're now developing are to either prevent or cure disease the minute that those are used then to enhance God's creation to something else, is that permissible? Is that licit or illicit?
Brad Cooper: 37:13 Right.
Dr. Buchanan: 39:01 If everybody, if the average IQ in the United States in the world is 100, which is pretty good, you know, most people running around and got an IQ of a hundred. They live good lives. If everybody's IQ then gets immediately elevated to 1:50, one fifties, go to 200. What kind of society is that? And I've heard that described as very interesting. That is almost like Darwinian selection and normal evolution that there would be an inflection point in the evolution of mankind where mankind was going to become smart enough to modify their own evolution and kind of have a genesis to kind of an Übermensch at that point. And that is part of our biology that we were gonna send our IQs from 100 to a 150 as a median. So these are the kinds of things that thou shalt and though shalt not. It's exciting. But man, I mean that's the joke is, you know, OK, well we'll don't worry. We'll make the right decision, right man, when has may have made the right decision? So we do have a little road. We without God or without God's direction, man tends to make the wrong Eggo centric decision. So we have to pray and let God's hand really helped direct us. The Holy Spirit has got directness.
Brad Cooper: 40:13 Well don't you think also though, it is part part, part of what you're, it sounds like you're doing on, you know, the static and committee and other things that you're doing, you know, to just to raise awareness because that's sort of what I've been finding among Christians is just in conversations about these things. Either they think it's, you know, science fiction or it's, you know, I do wonder years away, don't worry about it now or it'll never happen. Or, or like I said, they go to the negative of it.
Dr. Buchanan: 40:36 I think most of the implications are good and I think there'll be used for good. Most scientists actually have very good intentions. I think most people have very good intentions. So I'm just hoping that the goal is good. The goal is truth, but then you get into the negative, but then you get into the, what is the definition of truth? I mean Pontius Pilot, right? Asks Christ, you know, what is truth? So we have to figure out what one person's good or it could be another person's good. I mean we've heard, I mean there's rumblings in the Vatican, whether it was World War i or whether it was World War II or whatever conflict, the Vatican has advisors and they've got eyes at every corner of the world. And that's also the beauty of the Holy See, you know, so I won't call them spies, but there are people who watch what's going on around the world and the Vatican knows what's going around the world. Well, you know, there's some indication that some countries I won't mention may have already cloned human beings, right? So there, there are certain forces that we don't think that is a good. Religious people don't think that that's a good, but you know, there are certain sectors of the world that don't think cloning human beings is so bad. But for the most part, any good person of goodwill and good intention, they don't believe in human cloning. But in industry where you can clone yourself and have an extra kidney and an extra liver and an extra heart, uh, you know, whatever kind of turn on the brain or something in the cloned individual, some people may find that OK, so we also do have to face the nefarious or the dark things with this stuff too.
Brad Cooper: 42:11 Because I agree with you though. I mean, I think most of this is going to be used for good. And I hope it. I hope it is. I mean, I hope God does on some of these things that you're looking at and you see it every day and that sort of your earlier comment really was great. I mean, you see patients and you hold their hands and you look into the eyes of their eyes and you look into the eyes of their family. You know, if you asked anyone, there's this technology, as long as there's not ethical issues, but you know, that could be created today, that could cure the disease that your family member has. I don't think I know a person who would say no to that.
Dr. Buchanan: 42:11 Right.
Brad Cooper: 42:40 Yeah. I mean, how does that impact your faith? I mean, your work I should say. Tell me about how your faith strengthens you and helps you to do the work that you do, which I imagine is, is tough, tough work.
Dr. Buchanan: 42:51 The Pontifical Academy of life joined with the Vatican museum and we had a twelve painting exhibition where 12 of the academy members commented on one of the masterpieces in the Vatican Collection. Pope commented, the Vatican art historian who was a specialist in the era or the genre of the painting and then one of our academy members, whether they were scientist, anthropologist or physician, and I commented on a painting by Bigot who's an 18th century painter, very beautiful of Saint Sebastian and St Irene. She's pulling out the last Arrow from St Sebastian's body and I, I talk about what it's like. I start by quoting a Saint Teresa of Avila in her prayer. Christ has no body now on earth but yours and you know, that's what it's like to be a physician that I see, you know, I see Christ's healing ministry and what I do and I also see Christ's suffering body as my patient.
Brad Cooper: 43:46 Wow. Yeah. That's powerful. And very inspiring too for folks who are out there thinking about it. So yeah, it real quick. I mean, just if you had to, you know, uh, you gave us some already, but some, some words of wisdom, some encouragement maybe for young people who are Catholics are other Christians.
Dr. Buchanan: 44:00 I feel very privileged to have been given the vocation to be a physician because it's an easy one in order to interface with Christ's broken body. That's a really easy sell I think for a young person who feels that they want to be a doctor who's a Christian. It's like an automatic. I don't have to go searching to find people to help. I think it's great to be a banker or a lawyer or whatever you are, but as a doctor or nurse, but a doctor, I'm a doctor so I can only speak to what appears to be a doctor. I mean my whole life, which can also be quite exhausting. I have to say. It can be taxing as well to always be giving, you know, the patients. People are very sick, you know, that we see, especially in neurosurgery, people are very ill sometimes, but again, it's that great privilege where I don't need to go looking for a mission to do. I walk into the hospital and I feel fortunate that I'm able to immediately go into a patient's room and there they are waiting for me. I have a very intimate relationship with them. They're very appreciative. They want me to do the best that I can do. They know I'm not God. I also remind them of that when I told my father that I tell my patients I'm going to do the very best I can do, but you got to understand I'm not God. He said, oh my gosh, you're tell people that and they want you to operate on them? And I said exactly exactly because they know that I'm going to do my very best and I and I don't see myself as a like figure. I think that that's the beauty of being a physician. Your day to day work is just easy to strive, to be holy and to strive to sanctify your life and the life to the Ph, the lives of the people around you or you don't have to look for a hobby, a to try to strive for sainthood, but it is exhausting. Is academically rigorous. It's emotionally challenging at times and that's where your faith comes in. He realize you can't save everybody. You do the very best that you can. We lose patients, especially in my field of neurosurgery with traumatic injuries. I always feel, feel sad for the families, for the patients, but I also understand, you know, our faith states that they're going somewhere else. They're going somewhere else to become a part of the communion of saints. We're all gonna. Go. Hopefully eventually.
Brad Cooper: 46:13 Amen. Amen to that. And we'll thank you so much doctor. This has just been an amazing conversation and does God bless you and God speed and the work that you're doing. I love to have you on again sometime and I'm glad we got to finally do it with all the little hiccups we had along the way and you're a very busy guy, so I am very thankful. Thankful for your time and, uh, just look forward to hearing and hearing more about all the great work that you're doing there.
Dr. Buchanan: 46:34 Yeah. And thank you for the opportunity and I would ask everybody to, you know, to keep your doctors and your nurses and others in your prayers.
Brad Cooper: 46:41 absolutely will do that. And I've also have some links on the podcast to learn more about Dr Buchanan and his work there at, uh, at the Seton Brain and Spine Institute and just all the great things that he's involved with and, uh, keep up the amazing work.
Dr. Buchanan: 46:54 Thank you.
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