An Ohio company, Synapse Biomedical, created a novel device designed to stimulate natural breathing processes in patients suffering from decreased and degenerating respiration due to upper spinal cord injuries. Dr. Michael DiMaio of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center told EurekAlert that, ‘Patients who have high-level spinal-cord injuries are unable to breathe efficiently because the nerve signals no longer function.’ The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the NeuRx device for medical use in 2008.
The device, called the NeuRx diaphragm pacing system, seeks to make many improvements upon older respiratory aid models. Older models consisted of electrodes inserted directly on the phrenic nerve by way of incisions through the neck and chest. The phrenic nerve sends impulses from the brain to the diaphragm by way of the spinal cord, causing the large muscle to expand and contract properly, making the lungs inhale and exhale in a relatively natural fashion.
Other common treatments for spinal cord injury-based respiratory dysfunctions included the use of external mechanical ventilators that work by way of a tube inserted through the front of the throat, which has potential to interfere with speech.
The NeuRx device creators hope to revolutionize the respiratory-aid process with their new device, which works through 4 electrodes implanted into the diaphragm by way of incisions through the front of the lower abdomen. Dr. DiMaio also said of the NeuRx, ‘ has some advantages over traditional ventilators,’ ‘¦ ‘Patients have more mobility because they don’t have an external ventilator to carry around, and the surgery to implant the device is less invasive than previous treatments.’
The earlier nerve-stimulating electrodes had potential to scar and/or fatigue the phrenic nerve, whereas the NeuRx device works directly on the diaphragm with more diffuse electrical stimulus. The NeuRx also aids spinal cord injury patients to retain their natural speech, since the device does not involve incisions or tubes in the throat.
Other reported benefits of the NeuRx are: decreased incidence of infection, more natural breathing patterns, more mobility, less chance of scarring after surgery, and less chance of infection due to weakened respiratory ability.
Surgeons at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center are ready and equipped to begin implanting the device into eligible patients. The hospital is one of 25 total hospitals in the U.S. who are ready to implant the NeuRx in spinal cord injury and other respiratory-impaired patients. Hopefully the NeuRx diaphragm pacing system will provide relief and benefit to spinal cord injury patients in the near future.
Morales, Katherine. (November 25, 2009). ‘New device implanted by surgeons help paralyzed patients breathe easier.’ Retrieved December 9, 2009 from the EurekAlert website:https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-11/usmc-ndi112509.php