02 July 2008
Newly Approved Device To Help Paralyzed People Breath Without A Ventilator
I thought this was very cool. The FDA has just approved a new device, called the NeuRx DPS RA/4 (OK, the name's not too catchy). It is intended to help people with high-level spinal cord injuries with paralysis of the muscles used for breathing. People with paralyzed breathing muscles have to live attached to a bulky ventilator that breathes for them (think Christopher Reeve).
This device is an implantable electronic device that electrically stimulates the diaphragm to contract, allowing the user to inhale. It is intended for individuals to go up to four hours a day unhooked from their ventilators. The website claimed that half of the 50 patients in the trial achieved 100 % independence from their ventilators, and the rest could go without a ventilator for shorter periods each day.
It may not sound too impressive, but it's actually quite amazing. This implant does many things. First, the user doesn't have to lug around a big noisy ventilator with hoses coming out of it, which is awkward, attracts unwanted attention, and is a constant worry (will there be somewhere to plug it in before the battery runs out, etc). Second, unlike the ventilator, the implant lets a user take a full breath, which greatly reduces the risk of pneumonia-a huge health hazard and a common problem for quadruplegic individuals. Third, the implant can return a user's sense of taste and smell. Think back to the last time you had a cold and lost your sense of taste-this is a huge benefit as far as quality of life goes. Fourth, the device frees people up to enjoy lots of sports and recreation activities that they couldn't enjoy before. Clinical trial patients on the website state that they are now able to enjoy things like skydiving, bungee jumping, hiking, boating, and traveling that were previously out of their reach. Finally, the device helps users talk louder and breath more normally. (I think you can watch a video of one of the patients skydiving on this page!)
Right now the device is so new that only four medical centers in the US are implanting it. Hopefully everyone who can benefit from such a device will have access to it. The device is also undergoing trials for people with late stage ALS (aka Lou Gehrig's Disease)
Check out the website of the makers, Synapse Biomedical, right here.
Image: A skydiver and parachute in silhouette drift down past a setting sun in a pink sky.