When Adam Hammond went skydiving in 2006, he thought it was something that was going to end the same way as the 1,000 jumps before. However, when this U.S. Army “Golden Knight” pulled his parachute, nothing happened. Hammond hit the ground at over 45 miles an hour and broke his leg, pelvis and spine. Hammond woke six weeks later in the hospital with his father by his side. He considers himself “very lucky to be alive, [for] no one expected [him] to live1.”
After two years of therapy and surgeries, the pain was still so intense it was hindering his recovery. To combat this, Hammond was recommended a spinal cord neurostimulator. This device is only the size of a U.S. silver dollar and emits an electrical pulse to the spinal cord, disrupting the pain signal and replacing it with a pleasant one. After using this for one week under trial conditions, Hammond said, “The week trial was amazing. I didn’t expect those results at all. The day I got back…I was walking twice as far…without any pain at all1.”
According to Dr. Tim Deer, the president and CEO of the Center for Pain Relief, this device could be described as “pacing the nerves of the spine like you would for a regular heart beat, [except] we are going to pace the nerves that control pain1.” With this stimulator now permanently in place under Hammond’s skin, Deer hopes to increase his activity and decrease his dependence on medication. “That’s our main goal, to get him to be vital in his own life and his family’s life,” Deer commented1.
A New Industry
More than 50 million people in the U.S. suffer from chronic pain like Hammond3, and almost 300 million suffer worldwide4. Yet, only 100,000 patients are using this type of spinal cord stimulation technology. Part of this is due to the fact that the medical device industry is only just coming online. Even though it is growing at 20% or more each year5, the industry is far from saturated and is expected to have room for growth of 90%6. By the end of 2008, 44,600 spinal cord stimulation devices are expected to be sold7, but that barely begins to help the millions of people that could benefit from it. Luckily, the medical device industry is predicted to grow from $1.7 billion in 2008 to $4.3 billion in 20128. Growth of this nature will ensure more chronic pain sufferers have access to this type of management system, especially since most health plans reimburse patients for this type of therapy5.
The widespread acceptance and use of this technology is even more desirable when one considers chronic pain costs the U.S. $100 billion annually from lost time at work, healthcare costs and lost productivity9. Of this, $2.6 billion was spent on over-the-counter pain medication and $14 billion in prescription medications in 20044.
Chronic pain due to spinal injuries is not the only problem that can be ameliorated with electrical pulses. Other problems such as severe depression, tremors, Parkinson’s Disease, epilepsy, pelvic pain, angina, vascular disease, occipital headache, obsessive-compulsive disorder, motor dysfunction, brain injury and cortical stimulation are all being studied as potential benefactors of electrical pulse therapy5. One human trial is already underway to see if deep brain stimulation can resolve severe and lasting depression in patients unable to find relief through other methods.
Hope for Depression Sufferers
On June 26, St. Jude Medical issued a press release stating that two patients with severe depression were to undergo surgery to implant a small device near their collarbones. This device will release electrical pulses near the collarbone and travel up wires that are connected to an area of the brain thought to control depression10. According to the National Institutes of Health, 21 million people in the U.S. are depressed in some way. Although mainstream treatments are effective for 80% of these, they fail for the other 4 million in our population. “This…is an important step in…a neuromodulation therapy that…will treat this debilitating form of depression,” stated Chris Chavez, president of the St. Jude Medical ANS (Advanced Neuromodulation Systems) Division.
If the study goes as hoped, it may mirror results found in a Canadian study of 20 patients. This found that, after six months, over half of the patients felt a 40% or greater decrease in their depression. Currently, almost 80% of the patients feel relief, and 40% have began participating in social activities such as employment, dating, education and travel10. Furthermore, 15% were medically deemed to be completely free from their depression.
The improvements made to this type of therapy along with its increased use has the possibility of helping billions of people whether they suffer from depression, pain or disease. In the future, the boom in this industry could lead to a boom in the economy, allowing those held back from work and productivity the ability to regain their life, employment and security.
2 – Press Release: Former U.S. Army Parachutist Becomes First Person Implanted with the World’s Smallest Neurostimulator to Treat Chronic Pain. Sept. 17, 2008.
3 – National Institutes of Health; National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Notes, Vol 23, No. 3.
6 – The Goldman Sachs Group. Americas: Healthcare, Medical Devices. New York, NY: February 2007.
7 – Millenium Research Group. U.S. Markets for Neuromodulation Devices. Toronto, Ontario: 2006.
8 –Neurotech Reports. The Market for Neurotechnology, 2008 – 2012, San Francisco, CA: 2007.
9 – NIH Guide: New Direction in Pain Research I. Sept 4, 1998
10 – Press Release: St. Jude Medical Announces First Patient Implants in Clinical Study Evaluating Deep Brain Stimulation for Depression. June 26, 2008.