One of the measures of a new industry or technology is its ability to demonstrate longevity with a range of follow-on product enhancements that expand the original market and offer better performance for existing customers. By this measure, the neurotechnology industry is doing well, as evidenced by several articles in this issue.
As tempting as it might be for manufacturers of neural prostheses and implanted neurostimulation devices to rest on their laurels, there has been steady progress developing a second-generation of products that move beyond the initial offerings in categories such as cochlear implants, spinal cord stimulators, and deep-brain stimulation systems.
Power supplies certainly represent one of the major catalysts for this advancement. Just as a new generation of higher-capacity, smaller, and lighter batteries spurred progress in laptop computers, cellular phones, and personal digital assistants, new power supplies for neurostimulation systems offer the potential to expand dramatically the capabilities of these devices. Most notably, smaller power supplies can address one of the most serious barriers to neurostimulation devices: the implantation process. The shrinking size and longer life of neurostimulation power supplies also offer clinicians a wider range of locations in the body where the devices can be implanted.
But not all progress in our field is spurred by engineering enhancements. As NBR senior technical editor Warren Grill points out in his coverage of the Beyond Cochlear Implants Symposium [p7], neurotech manufacturers can also expand their markets by fine-tuning or modifying existing devices to reach potential users who were not candidates for the first generation of devices. The effort to develop an auditory prosthesis that works in the central auditory pathways in the brain or in the peripheral auditory nerve not only brings the promise of neural prostheses to new users, it may also produce a greater understanding of auditory processing that would benefit traditional cochlear implants.
Finally, manufacturers of spinal cord stimulation systems have learned that they can draw on their success treating chronic back pain, and are now seeking to target their devices to other types of pain. At least three manufacturers of SCS devices are exploring the market for occipital nerve stimulation to treat chronic migraine, and as we report in our article this month [p1], St. Jude Medical and Medtronic are conducting trials for treating angina pain.
These efforts to expand the first generation of neurotech devices to new users and new markets is a good sign of robustness for our industry. As this second generation of products emerges, we expect to have much more to cover in this publication in the years ahead.
Editor and Publisher