Technology - February 27, 2018

Frontiers of Technology in Implantable Medical Devices: Neuromodulation

One of the biggest challenges in the development of medical devices is the reduction of physical size of the devices and instruments. One technology area that has met this challenge is neuromodulation. Neuromodulation devices may be applied to affect the five senses, muscle control and other functions within the body. These devices included an array of evolving technology, such as computer chips, electrodes, hardware, electrical signals and other synthetic items that interact with the human body. The problems facing entrepreneurs and start-ups and established medical device companies are myriad, the physical size being only one factor.

Technological developments have blurred the line between traditional electrical, chemical, mechanical, biological and applied physics academics. Accordingly, the material science integrates into physics, the chemistry integrates into electronics and the biology integrates into computer algorithms. Medical devices for neuromodulation are pushing the boundaries of technology to produce safe and effective devices beyond traditional physiological areas, such as into the brain, spine and peripheral organs.

Example technological breakthroughs currently being commercialized include a bionic eye having a retinal implant providing electrical stimulation of the retina to induce visual perception in blind individuals with severe to profound Retinitis Pigmentosa. Although the resolution does not match that of a CCD camera or CMOS image sensors popular in camera phones, the pixel array in the bionic eye is sufficient for the user to see and recognize another human, traverse a predefined walking path and even snow ski. Second Sight Medical Products, Inc. of Sylmar, CA has made significant strides in this area.

Interesting examples can be found in two videos about patients using their new bionic eyes and a captivating interview with a blind skier.

Other technologies are focused on the design and development of devices to help restore function and movement in patients with paralysis, for example, non-invasive spinal cord neuromodulator systems. NeuroRecovery Technologies, Inc. is at the forefront in this area, providing patients the ability to restore voluntary movement to their hands and legs and to stand on his/her own feet after catastrophic spinal injury.

Other companies, such as Boston Scientific, are using advanced micro stimulation technologies to develop devices related to spinal cord stimulation for the treatment of chronic pain and deep brain stimulation for movement disorders.

Related research at the University of California, Irvine is being directed to neural engineering, biomedical signal processing and pattern recognition, biological neural network modeling, and biomedical devices and sensors.

As a result of the technological advancements in neuromodulation, companies are developing medical device products and technologies that transform patients’ lives – in our view, a laudatory goal of medical device innovation and a major benefit to society. We commend these researchers, entrepreneurs and medical device companies in bringing their passion to advance technology that surely excites us all and provides hope for a better future in applied medicine directed to neuromodulation.

In November 2017, the Caltech Entrepreneurs Forum in Pasadena produced the program “Neuromodulation – Changing Lives with Direct Nerve-to-Device Connections”. The program explored the near and intermediate term prospects for researching, developing and implementing devices that interact with the body’s neural network. The speakers shared their views on the opportunities and challenges of the field and provided their views of the future in medical devices directed to neuromodulation.

There is much work to be done to bring neuromodulation devices into the mainstream of medicine. Barriers still exist in size reduction, doctor adoption and recommendation, patient acceptance and financial reimbursement. At Steinfl+Bruno, we will be monitoring and participating, as the occasion arises, in this and other exciting technological fields of medicine.