We’re constantly amazed at the large number of new and innovative technologies we come across in the course of publishing this newsletter. This month is no exception, as proved by our two lead articles on the oscillating field stimulator developed at Purdue University and recent advances in optical stimulation. Both these approaches to affecting the nervous system are radical departures from the products and technologies currently in use. Yet both draw on the basic science and engineering platform laid down by neurotechnology pioneers in the last two decades.
Of course, there are a host of other new technologies and product directions that also fit this description, including three that we have singled out for a 2004 Gold Electrode Award [see article this page]. John Donoghue’s research on brain computer interfaces, John McDonald’s work in restorative therapy approaches to treating stroke and spinal cord injury, and Ben Pless’ development of the NeuroPace RNS system—each of these efforts have broken new ground while building upon prior work from scientists and engineers in a number of disciplines.
Taken together, these advances help illustrate that the neurotechnology industry is still well in its infancy, with many more twists and turns of technology and commerce ahead of it. Indeed, the product mix that emerges to treat neurological diseases and disorders in the next five to 10 years may bear very little resemblance to the stimulators, electrodes, sensing systems, and other devices on the market today.
This may prove challenging for investors, regulators, and market observers who are more comfortable with industries that evolve with well managed product cycles and more predictable competitive offerings. The biotech industry, for example, produces a large number of new compounds and new drug development firms every year, but the basic technologies at play are not radically different. Likewise, competitors in the cardiac market steadily enhance their offerings in rhythm management and pacemakers, but we haven’t seen a wholesale departure in cardiac device technology in many years.
Neurotechnology, on the other hand, encompasses an exceptionally diverse set of tools, techniques, and disciplines ranging from optical physics to chemical kinetics, to microelectronics, to software. Yet all of these diverse products and engineering approaches share an outlook on the nervous system that is based on interpreting and redirecting the flow of information, whether that be from synapse to neuron, receptor to brain center, cortical area to muscle group, or ion channel to cell membrane.
So while the tools that neurotechnologists use, their mode of operation, and their location in the body may be quite different, what ties them all together is a strategy of marrying electronic devices with elements of the nervous system. We predict even more examples of like-minded divergence in the years ahead.
Editor and Publisher