A headline in the well-respected UK publication, The Telegraph, says “Cure for chronic pain found: World’s first patient fitted with permanent spinal cord implant” and that’s got National Pain Report a bit miffed. False hopes are-a-plenty among new treatments and “cures” for people suffering in chronic pain, and it’s irresponsible to lead sufferers into thinking that their pain will magically go away with a new advance.
National Pain Report has reported extensively on neuromodulation, which is the use of electrical current to mask pain signals. Electrical stimulation has been used widely and for a long time with different categories of technology, including spinal cord stimulation (SCS), peripheral nerve stimulation (PNS) and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS).
So, what’s so groundbreaking with this new technology that a major global publication would say it’s a “cure for chronic pain?” Well, let’s start with this: It is a spinal cord stimulation system. It treats chronic pain in the same fundamental way other SCS systems do, in that it delivers electrical current to the spinal cord, which modulates the pain signal before it reaches the brain.
The technology, called Evoke, was developed by Saluda Medical, an Australian medical device company. The company claims that it has overcome a major weakness of other SCS technologies. The company says those weaknesses are that electrodes in conventional SCS systems move when the patient moves, and that means the location of the spinal cord that is receiving stimulation changes. They say this movement can cause unpleasant or uncomfortable sensations.
“Saluda Medical is developing the Evoke closed loop neuromodulation control system designed to automatically adjust stimulation levels for maximum symptom relief irrespective of patient movement,” the company’s website states.
Back to the headlines. The first patient was implanted with the new technology in Australia this week. His name is Joe Grewal, and he’d suffered from back pain for 30 years. He stated his pain levels dropped from an 8 to a 2 or 3 (on a 10-point scale). This level of benefit is hardly “a cure,” and is consistent with reports from people who use other SCS systems.
The Telegraph quoted Dr. Charles Brooker – the person who programmed the implant – as saying:
“[The new] machine can adjust itself to produce whatever set level the patient wants, and that’s a big advance because previously, whenever people moved or their heart was pulsating, various things would make the electrical signal waver up and down quite significantly and they would get shock sensations and not be able to live their lives effectively in many cases.”
Sound the alarms!
The reality is that there is a new SCS technology that has been implanted in one person and broad-based clinical trials are just now getting underway. The device has yet to be proven safe and its efficacy has yet to be proven. That’s a far cry from a “Cure for chronic pain.”
Shame on you, The Telegraph.