The dramatic recovery of a 38-year-old traumatic brain injury patient in a minimally conscious state following a pioneering DBS procedure [see article, p1] represents more than just an awakening of one individual. In many respects, the procedure, and the intense media coverage that followed the release of the scientific paper in Nature earlier this month, signifies a jolt of public consciousness for a patient community and a market opportunity that has been somewhat dormant in the past.
Traumatic brain injury currently affects 2 percent of the U.S. population and new incidence amounts to 1.4 million cases per year, mostly from falls, traffic accidents, and assaults. As we have reported previously, the war in Iraq has created an entirely new and, unfortunately, growing source of brain injuries. For TBI patients in a minimally conscious state or with cognitive disabilities, there have been few, if any treatments available. Assuming the positive results reported by the research team at the Cleveland Clinic, Weill Cornell Medical College, and the JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Center are seen in other TBI patients, this could be a significant development for the neurotechnology industry.
Because there are so few therapies available to revive individuals in a minimally conscious state or to restore lost cognitive functions resulting from TBI, it is conceivable that DBS could eventually become the standard of care for individuals with this type of disorder. Unlike other implanted neuromodulation therapies, such as DBS for Parkinsons’s disease or spinal cord stimulation for chronic pain, which are brought in only after other, less invasive therapies have failed, DBS for TBI could become a first line of defense. Aside from the market potential this offers DBS system and component vendors, the share-of-mind it would garner among neurosurgeons, neurologists, physiatrists, and insurers might prove to be substantial.
In mapping out a market opportunity for treating TBI, Cleveland- based Intelect Medical deserves credit, not just for identifying an unmet clinical need, but also for fine-tuning its product specifications to the specific application they are pursuing. The company’s stimulation leads will be customized for each target site and the IPG will deliver unique waveforms and stimulation paradigms optimized for each individual.
Together, the medical and engineering advances put forward by the teams in Cleveland and New York represent a significant advance for the neurotechnology industry. And, judging by the amount of media coverage devoted to the recent findings, they represent a significant awakening of the general public to the potential that neurotechnology devices offer.
Editor and Publisher