28 February 2006

Brain Implants for Parkinson's, Epilepsy, Depression: We Are All Cyborgs Now

In a recent New York Times article, patients and doctors discuss the new neuro-implant technology called neuromodulation. Used as treatment for disorders from Parkinson's disease, depression, and epilepsy, to chronic pain disorders and tremors. But that is just the beginning. In this industry, the sky is the limit. Read on:

Don Falk stretched his right arm over his head, past the faint marks where a surgeon sank two wires deep in his brain, to show how uncontrollable tremors in his hand used to slap him awake in the morning.

It was just one of many difficulties he suffered as his Parkinson's disease advanced. Falk had trouble shaving and walking, and his medications caused his head to twitch awkwardly, making him self-conscious in church.

''It's the day-to-day living that is so hard with Parkinson's,'' he said.

In May, Falk, 52, started to get better with the help of an emerging class of implantable medical devices called neuromodulators -- tiny machines that stimulate the central nervous system to treat a host of disorders. Analysts say they could be the next big thing for some of the market's hottest medical technology companies.

....Neuromodulators are technological cousins of implantable heart defibrillators, a $5.5 billion market that's growing at nearly 20 percent a year.

The devices do have some hurdles. While they've been shown to be safe and effective at treating some disorders, they're generally recommended only after drugs and other less invasive treatments fail.

The surgical procedure can be complex, and the devices themselves are expensive, about $50,000 for the deep brain stimulator, less for other devices in the class. And that doesn't include the costs of surgery.

The results are impressive, but ''it's not a big moneymaker,'' said Dr. Richard Veyna, Falk's neurosurgeon at Methodist Hospital in this Minneapolis suburb. Not enough doctors know about the technology, and at current insurance reimbursement rates simpler procedures are more profitable, Veyna said.

Perhaps surprisingly, the risks of brain surgery rarely dissuade patients, maybe because they are tired of living with Parkinson's symptoms and have seen other treatments fail, he said.

Falk said he didn't hesitate about brain surgery. ''My tremor was so bad I just wanted it done,'' he said. His adult children didn't think twice either: ''They did not like me just sitting there, shaking and stuff.''

Falk touts his procedure to other Parkinson's patients, telling them that his medication has been cut by two-thirds and his insurance covered the procedure.

Competition, higher volume and technological advances drove down the costs of implantable cardiac devices, and could do the same for the neuromodulators. Only a small number of people who might benefit from the devices -- people who suffer from Parkinson's, tremors, epilepsy, chronic depression or chronic pain -- are now getting them, Wald said.

''Neurostimulation to me, in fact the whole neurological space, is what cardiology was 10 years ago,'' Wald said. ''The opportunity is just vast.''

....Dr. Todd Sitzman, an anesthesiologist in Hattiesburg, Miss., has used them in hundreds of patients with chronic pain over the last decade.

''Does it work from the patient's perspective? Without question,'' said Sitzman, who sits on the National Pain Foundation's board of directors. ''It is a therapy that gives them some relief and some semblance of a life.''

Companies are already pushing to develop new applications for the devices. They see potential uses in treating diseases including depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, erectile dysfunction, traumatic brain injuries, obesity, angina, incontinence and ringing in the ears.

Read the entire article here.

Hat tips to Singularity News (Multipolarity News) and The Speculist.

Personally, it seems to me that these companies are thinking too small. If implants can help the blind to see, there is no reason they cannot do much more than the planned uses listed in the NYT article. I prefer correcting damage and defects biologically, but there will definitely be a period of time when the hardware will be able to accomplish things the wetware is not capable of. Think of it as the need to use crutches, temporarily. Eventually, you put them aside and walk on your own.

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Blogger DTownDave22 said...

And we know it will always be profit over and befor people so until things change, this will not hit the market at a high rate.

Monday, 27 July, 2009  

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