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Startup Offers Hope for Paralyzed Patients

Patients with spinal cord injuries and other forms of paralysis have reason to be optimistic, thanks to recent advances in the use of spinal-cord stimulator devices to regain some lower limb function. A recently announced study reporting how four paralyzed patients regained lower limb function may be just the beginning of a wave of advances in the field of spinal-cord stimulation. A Southern California-based start-up known as NeuroRecovery Technologies Inc. (Monarch Beach, CA) is developing novel spinal-cord stimulator technology and holds the exclusive license to the IP related to it. 

"All of the news that was released recently, it may be new to the public, but it is something we have known and the scientific team has worked on for some time," says Nick Terrafranca, CEO of the startup. "All of these patients have been implanted for some time. Many more patients have been evaluated and treated since these initial four."

"What is even more exciting is that there is a dedicated and experienced team focused right now on delivering commercially available products to help paralyzed patients within the next couple of years," Terrafranca says. "We are driven every day to get these products to the patients who need them. This is not a dream of something that might happen way in the future; it's right in front of us." The firm's technology will be customized to meet the specific needs of paralyzed patients; in the recent studies where paralyzed patients regained some lower limb function, devices for other applications had been modified to treat them. "These patients will be the recipient of something customized to their special needs," Terrafranca explains. "It is also very good news for the health care system, as the lifetime cost of care for these patients is expected to decrease dramatically with the use of our technology."

NeuroRecovery Technologies has worked with universities such as UCLA to treat more than twenty paralyzed patients using neurostimulation devices. "We've been treating patients not just with an implantable approach but also with an external stimulator," Terrafranca says. "The external stimulator, I believe, is going to be a game-changer in the field of neuromodulation. We've been getting remarkable results for spinal cord injury patients," he adds. "We've also had a breakthrough with a couple of stroke patients and the preliminary data is very encouraging. You can see the overwhelming sense of these patients feeling whole again and getting their quality of life back. It is extremely exciting and very gratifying."

The research scientists involved have experimented with devices made by companies such as Medtronic, Boston Scientific, and St. Jude. The company, however, is working to develop its own technology to optimize treatment for such patients. "The existing technology is very limited. And that is one reason why the company was formed, we needed more highly programmable devices to address the specific needs of these patients" Terrafranca says.

"The reality of having something available on a widespread commercial use is just around the corner," he adds. "And we would welcome help on all fronts: strategic partnerships, strategic investments, and volunteers for future studies."

The company recently completed work on prototype devices. "Now we are proceeding with beta development, which are the devices that will ultimately be taken into clinical trials to gain approval by the FDA," Terrafranca notes.

Thus far, the company has received financial support from private individuals as well as the National Institutes of Health in the form of SBIR grants. The academic research from the three Universities, which involved UCLA, Cal Tech and The University of Louisville, received financial support from The National Institutes of Health, The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, The Craig H. Nielsen Foundation, The Michael J. Fox Foundation and The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, to list a few.

Brian Buntz is the editor-in-chief of MPMN. Follow him on Twitter at @brian_buntz and Google+.

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