In 2009 Andrew Johnson was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson's disease. The illness quickly progressed and rapidly deteriorated his quality of life. Then, in June 2013, Johnson, a resident of Auckland, New Zealand, posted a video on YouTube demonstrating the effectiveness of his deep-brain stimulation (DBS) implant.
In the video, titled “The Effects of DBS on the Motor Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease,” Johnson, normal affect and even-tempered, introduces himself and talks about his condition. He then demonstrates how his implant works by turning it off. Within seconds his hands begin to shake, his muscles spasm, and he has difficulty speaking. He promises he isn't faking. Just as the tremors threaten to make him drop the remote, Johnson reactivates the device and returns to normalcy in less than a second. The video spread on the social news and entertainment Web site Reddit and went viral—becoming, for the general public, one of the most powerful demonstrations of the effectiveness of neurostimulation.
Neurostimulation covers an umbrella of technologies and techniques for managing neurological disorders such as Parkinson's, epilepsy, and chronic pain, and has been building momentum for more than a decade. In 2010, MD+DI predicted
that technological advancements would greatly improve neurostimulation devices both in terms of efficacy and their potential to disrupt the market, and many recent developments have borne this prediction out.
|Medtronic's RestoreSensor SureScan MRI neurostimulator can withstand magnetic resonance imaging under certain conditions.|
Big players like Medtronic and St. Jude announced new products in the field of neurostimulation in 2013. This past April, St. Jude received a CE Mark for its Brio, Libra, and Libra XP devices for treating primary and secondary dystonia. Last August saw the introduction of Medtronic's RestoreSensor SureScan MRI, the first neurostimulation system capable of withstanding a full-body MRI under certain conditions. In December the company announced it had begun testing the Activa PC+S DBS system, a deep-brain stimulation system capable of delivering DBS therapy while simultaneously measuring how a patient's brain is responding to it. This sort of feedback has never been available in a neurostimulation system before and offers the potential for enhanced efficacy and safety.
“The ability to sense brain signals while delivering Medtronic DBS therapy brings us closer to the opportunity for a closed-loop DBS system, which has the potential to provide truly personalized therapy for patients," says Tim Denison, engineering director at Medtronic.
Other companies are exploring the potential of neurostimulation for treatment of other disorders. Last year, Dallas-based MicroTransponder raised $3.4 million to conduct clinicial trials on a new form of neurostimulation to treat stroke and tinnitus. The company hopes to achieve CE Marks for both devices this year. While the high cost of some neurostimulation devices could deter them from being more widely adopted by clinicians, an increased focus on clinical outcomes, enforced by the Affordable Care Act, could lead more doctors and hospitals to take a closer look at the devices.