Mainstream science/technology articles usually come in one of a few forms. Outlining some cutting edge (ie, with no applications for another 20 years) research being done at a university, discussing a “controversial” medical procedure, or summing up the specifics of the latest NASA mission are mainstays. Occasionally, they write pieces summing up a new technology as having “arrived,” ready for use by the general public, if only it would read the article. Chris Williams of the AP has granted neuro implants such status:
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’s always important to open a medical technology piece with a patient vividly outlining how things were pre-treatment and to throw some seed like “sank two wires deep in his brain” to hook readers’ curiousity as to the crazy new technology employed.
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.
The deep brain stimulator silently pulsing away deep in Falk’s head is made by Fridley-based Medtronic Inc., a multibillion dollar medical device company and the leader in the more than $1 billion market for neuromodulators.
Medtronic has the only deep brain stimulator on the market, but St. Paul-based St. Jude Medical Inc. is in clinical trials of its own version through its newly acquired subsidiary Advanced Neuromodulation Systems Inc. of Plano, Texas, which already sells spinal implants to treat chronic pain.
“I can tell you eight years ago, neuromodulation was not on the tip of anybody’s tongue, but today it is reaching critical mass and it’s gaining momentum and people are starting to imagine what is possible,” said Chris Chavez, president of St. Jude Medical’s ANS division.
Cyberonics Inc. of Houston is the smallest player, with a device to treat epilepsy by shocking a nerve in the neck, and Boston Scientific bought into the market in 2004 by acquiring Sylmar, Calif.-based Advanced Bionics Corp., a maker of robotic inner ears.
But ANS quarterly revenue rose 26 percent to $39.3 million during its last quarter before St. Jude bought it in November for $1.4 billion. And Cyberonics Inc. reported sales grew 19 percent to $31.3 million for the quarter ended Jan. 27, though the company reported an overall loss on heavy spending to prepare marketing of a newly approved neuromodulation therapy for drug-resistant chronic depression.
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.
“Neurostimulation to me, in fact the whole neurological space, is what cardiology was 10 years ago,” Wald said. “The opportunity is just vast.”
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.
While the article doesn’t say much that your average Medgadget reader wouldn’t already know, articles of this ilk are important for alerting the general public as to the progress that medical technology is making. Specifcally, pieces like this attract patients, investors, political advocates and future biomedical engineers.
Notably lacking in the article were any references to Terminal Man by Michael Crichton (thus the picture).
Article via Newsday.com
Neuro device companies named in the article:
St. Jude Medical Inc
Boston Scientific Inc
Advanced Neuromodulation Systems Inc
Advanced Bionics Corp