Doctors in Australia have carried out a pioneering procedure to treat chronic pain, fitting a permanent spinal cord implant which can record signals from the nervous system and adjust the strength of impulses sent to affected areas.
The procedure has been hailed as a breakthrough for treatment of chronic pain and could help patients to avoid pain-killers, which can be extremely costly.
Joe Grewal, the first human to be fitted with a permanent implant, said he has suffered chronic back pain for more than 30 years and now “feels amazing”.
The 60-year-old said his pain level had dropped from eight of ten before the treatment to “two or three” immediately afterwards. The device, developed by Saluda, was fitted at the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney on Tuesday.
"It's a significant decrease in pain,” he told Fairfax Media. “I'm so excited about it."
Dr Charles Brooker, the specialist who fitted the implant, said it was a “big advance” because the device could record signals emerging from the nervous system.
"Spinal cord stimulators [send] signals into the spinal cord and so the person with pain feels tingling in the pain area and that confuses the brain and they don't feel the pain, they just feel a pleasant tingling sensation," Dr Brooker told ABC News.
“[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.”
Doctors believe the implants could have wider uses beyond chronic pain treatment and potentially help patients with Parkinson's disease.
Claire Bale, head of research, communications and engagement at Parkinson’s UK, said: “This new spinal cord stimulation treatment could be an important new tool in the armoury of options for tackling pain in Parkinson’s – but further research is needed to understand more about the types of pain experienced by people with the condition, and what treatments work best.
"We know that pain can be a major issue for some people with Parkinson’s, which is why at Parkinson's UK we’re funding the largest ever study of this aspect of the condition.”