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New vagus nerve stimulator developed

26 January, 2006

Researchers have developed a wireless device that is implanted in the neck to treat depression and epilepsy.

It
has been known for several years that stimulating the vagus nerve,
which connects the brain to several major organs, can help reduce
seizures in people whose epilepsy can not be controlled by medication.
Last summer, the US Food and Drug Administration approved vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) for use to treat severe depression as well.

Researchers based at the University of Pittsburgh
have modified an existing method for deep-brain stimulation that uses
radio frequency technology to help treat conditions such as
Parkinson's. They have developed a radio frequency-powered neural
stimulator (RFNS). The RFNS is made up of a receiving device implanted
under the skin of the neck and a powering device placed above near the
skin at the same site, under an adhesive patch.

The existing VNS device, manufactured by Cyberonics,
comprises of a pulse generator surgically implanted into the left side
of the chest, and a wire extending from the device up through the left
side of the neck to wrap around the nerve. Patients must undergo
additional surgery to change the battery every three to eight years.

The
Pittsburgh researchers claim that with the existing VNS system there is
a risk of infection due to the surgical incisions, and the long wire
lead may cause painful adhesions and restricted movement. They say that
as this new system requires only one surgical incision, rather than the
two required by Cyberonics VNS, the risk of infection is reduced. Other
advantages of RFNS over the existing VNS system, the researchers claim,
include no invasive tunnelling from the shoulder to the neck region and
an external battery, which reduces the need for subsequent surgery and
further lowers the risk of infection; and a short wire lead, reducing
the chance of adhesions.

The
next step for the researchers is to license the technology to a
company, which would then need to obtain regulatory approval.