Sunday, October 14, 2012

Electronic implant able to relieve migraine

A lot of people suffer from migraine attacks, a condition that can be severely debilitating. It is a form of severe headache that periodically returns and it is tied with malfunctions in the nervous system. Although it is likely to be caused by both genetic and environmental factors, the underlying pathological mechanisms are not well understood. This impedes the development of new treatments, but scientists have come up with a way to decrease the severity in certain migraine patients. An electrical implant that sends signals to the brain was shown to decrease the number of migraine attacks, making it a promising way to give such patients a better quality of life.

The so-called neurostimulation device was developed by the Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia is implanted in the neck, after which it sends out electrical impulses. They travel up into the brain, where the pulses eventually end up in the rear part. What actually happens in that area of the brain after stimulation remains unknown: the mechanism of action of the electric device is not well understood, which makes it even more amazing that authorization for implantation of the device has been granted by the European Union.

In a clinical trial involving 157 people, the scientists looked at the number of migraine attacks in patients with a chronic form of the disease. In a subset of the patients receiving the implant, it was switched off, in order to serve as a control group. After three months, the researchers noted that the average number of migraine attacks in the group with the active implant reduced from 22 to 16, which can be seen as a clinically relevant decrease in prevalence. However, a small reduction in the number of attacks was also noted when the device was switched off.

This was one of the first studies analyzing the effects of such a device in this group of patients. It may be possible that adjustments help to make the implant even more effective in reducing the number of migraine attacks. Because it was deemed to be safe, it is possible for patients suffering from chronic migraine to keep the implant active for the rest of their lives, according to the scientists. There do still seem to be a number of issues, as by far not all patients responded to the active implant. That means more work is to be done in order to get it right.

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