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Seeing the light for treatment-resistant epilepsy

Most users of CorTec’s implantable electrodes use electrical energy to power their neurostimulation device. Our long-standing collaboration partner Synergia Medical  is exploring an alternative option: Light!

A special promise of optoelectronic solutions is based on the fact that they can use light conductors instead of metallic cables for energy transmission. Metallic cabling poses a risk in conventional active medical implants, as it can interfere with modern imaging technologies that are essential for many diagnostic purposes. Therefore, getting rid of the cabling would increase the diagnostic options that a patient can use, which, in turn, would make neuromodulation implants more attractive and would contribute to patient safety. Synergia Medical aims to exploit those advantages by developing a first optoelectronic implant for neuromodulation.

“Synergia Medical works with several neurosurgeons specialized on the placement of neurostimulators for vagus nerve stimulation (VNS). Their feedback concerning the electrode of Synergia Medical is unanimous: The design is user-friendly and they like it. Indeed, they can wrap the electrode around the vagus nerve in less than 25 seconds, which is very fast. In addition to this user-friendly aspect that facilitates the surgery, the electrode’s self-sizing capacities are also a positive feature that is very important“, highlights Pascal Doguet, CTO & COO of Synergia Medical.

CorTec is proud to contribute to this endeavor by developing a special, custom-made cuff electrode type. Ronny Pfeifer, the responsible cuff specialist engineer at CorTec, explains: “For this project, we extended an existing technology for manufacturing spiral cuffs and combined it with our proprietary laser technology. In several steps, we built a structure that will always relax back to a spiral shape after unfolding. This allows the electrodes to “automatically” wrap themselves around any thin object, which makes them very easy to implant. The silicon wrapping is long enough to allow for several turns around the nerve axis. This yields a particularly tight and robust mechanical and electrical seal”. Because of that special design, the cuffs can flexibly adapt to a relatively wide range of nerve thicknesses, without interrupting the intraneural blood flow, making them particularly versatile in use. “In close cooperation with our partner Synergia Medical, we have inserted and refined a number of patented additional features along the developmental process that optimize practical use further. For instance, we included tapered edges that create a soft lateral closure and particular good alignment to bent nerve structures, a handling flap that simplifies implantation and special design features in the metal conducting elements that are extra resistant to stretch.” adds Pfeifer.

„Working with the experienced team of Synergia on their truly innovative product has been both fruitful and a great pleasure. We are proud to continue our collaboration and help to bring their innovation to patients as soon as possible”, states Jörn Rickert (CEO of CorTec).

The first application that Synergia Medical is targeting with their novel devices will be epilepsy. It is the fourth most common neurological disorder and particularly distressing. Epileptic seizures, often accompanied by weird, uncontrollable movements, can hit the patients anytime, anywhere. In about a third of all patients, pharmacological treatment remains ineffective, creating a desperate need for new treatment options.

Neurostimulation could provide a powerful new solution for that. Various researchers are already experimenting with stimulation of the vagus nerve – which is part of the relaxing parasympathetic system – to calm down the overactive brain when an epileptic seizure is imminent. Apart from the special CorTec electrodes that will wrap around the vagus nerve, the Synergia system will employ a number of technological advances to create a novel closed-loop optoelectronic implant:

Pascal Doguet, CTO & COO at Synergia Medical

“We integrated optoelectronics into the implantable device as a means of power & communication transfer and biomarker sensing. We replaced all metal wires by optical fibers, rendering the device fully compliant with magnetic resonance imaging and brain scans. Furthermore, we integrated a battery that is rechargeable in less than 10 min and requires replacement only every 15 years. Beyond that, we will provide new tools to enable the physician to adjust the stimulation for each patient and to better understand its effect on the treatment“, explains Pascal Doguet, CTO & COO of Synergia Medical.

“Besides, the relation with CorTec has been excellent since the very beginning of our collaboration. CorTec’s high knowledge and quality has been instrumental in the successful development of our dedicated cuff electrodes.“

At the moment, the ambitious novel device is still under development and not available for human use yet. But if the system will indeed prove to be able to successfully intercept seizures, that will constitute a major breakthrough for treatment-resistant epilepsy.

Learn more about Synergia Medical.


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