Bernard Ross, Chief Executive Officer and founder of Sky Medical Technology explores how innovative bioelectronic medical devices are transforming modern healthcare.
Every 37 seconds someone in the western world dies from a venous thromboembolism (VTE). In England, this equates to approximately 40,000 deaths each year. 62% of these deaths are deemed preventable given the proper treatment1 and around 30% of those who have suffered will likely endure further health problems within the next 10 years of their life.
“By treating conditions where there is currently an unmet need, bioelectronic devices can benefit 44 million patients worldwide today”
Ironically it is often the process of medical treatment that leads to VTE issues, particularly surgery. Naturally surgery requires a period where a patient is immobile, both during and after surgery. This lack of movement is often what triggers VTE.
In fact, hospital-acquired thrombosis is the cause of around 55-60% of all cases2.This is particularly common for hyper-acute stroke patients who have reduced mobility throughout the recuperation period. Despite this, VTE is often overlooked as a major health problem.
Currently, many practitioners use intermittent pneumatic compression (IPC) devices to help prevent blood clots in the deep veins of the legs. These devices use cuffs around a patient’s legs that fill with air and squeeze – something research has shown a third of patients find intolerable.
Hyper-acute stroke patients contraindicated to IPC (e.g. through vascular or skin disease) or because they are intolerant of it, need an alternative intervention to prevent venous stasis. This is especially critical given that high-risk and immobile patients (unable to be prescribed drugs) would have no other mechanical VTE prevention available to them other than standard measures of hydration and aspirin.
NHS services operate with finite funding and nursing resources; which can result in a lack of innovation when it comes to the development of new patient therapies. With the UK Government promising £34 billion of additional funding to the NHS, there is now a real opportunity for this to change. Action on stroke is an acknowledged priority as part of NHS England’s Long Term Plan announced in May 2019, and acute stroke VTE prevention will be part of this.
The rise of bioelectronics
Significant advances in bioengineering and neurology have led to the development of bioelectronic therapies, which in turn has presented new ways to treat chronic medical conditions. Bioelectronic medicine is the use of electronic devices to stimulate or dial down certain actions within the human body; instead of targeting the body’s cells like most pharmaceutical treatments, the electrical impulses target a variety of nerve networks – creating a new level of medical precision.
As researchers continue to learn about the functionality of cells and how they communicate with each other, there has been an increase in the sophisticated use and understanding of bioelectronic medical devices. An important area of advancement is wearable bioelectronic therapy to treat acute medical conditions. Innovation that speaks to this advance is now here and about to shift modern healthcare by offering non-drug therapies allowing health professionals to treat acute vascular conditions such as, life threatening blood clots, complications related to swelling after orthopaedic surgery, and slow healing wounds.
Although pharmaceutical treatments are frequently used to increase blood flow in patients at-risk of VTE, drug development has proven to be costly and rarely achieves the desired results in comparison to bioelectronic medicinal therapies. Device-based treatments have proven to be extremely beneficial – from both a budgetary and treatment perspective. Patients suffering from vascular disorders and pre- and post-surgical complications can now be prescribed with a viable alternative treatment pathway, one which can reduce their risk of VTE to zero1.
The first example of wearable bioelectronic therapy, for acute conditions, is the geko™ device: the size of a wristwatch and strapped to the lower leg, it gently stimulates the common peroneal nerve, activating the calf and foot muscle pumps. This results in increased blood flow in the deep veins of the calf at a rate equal to 60% of walking. It requires no external compression of the leg and enables patients to be mobile while wearing it. While this device is primarily targeted to VTE prevention, oedema control and wound healing, within the next decade, modulating neural networks could become a mainstream treatment for many health issues such as arthritis, asthma, Alzheimer’s and even depression according to researchers.
Investing in success
Bioelectronic medicine is one of the fastest growing areas in healthcare. The medical devices market is predicted to be worth more than $6 billion in 2020, growing rapidly to $8.5 billion by 2025. The market is expected to grow at an annual growth rate of 7.9%, mainly as a result of the rising research in this industry and the continual investment into the development of electroceutical devices.
By treating conditions where there is currently an unmet need, bioelectronic medical devices can benefit 44 million patients worldwide today. As the technology evolves even further, these devices could eventually be used to treat all acute and chronic circulatory conditions – improving the lives of more than 200 million patients and reducing the strain on health services with finite resources.
The NHS Long Term Plan Funding Bill will enshrine in law an extra £34 billion a year by 2024 for the NHS to transform care. Deciding how some of this additional funding will be spent will be left to local clinicians; suggesting that bioelectronic therapies could continue to be rolled out in more NHS trusts to reduce VTEs in high risk patients, saving lives and money in the long term.
Bernard Ross is Chief Executive Officer and founder of Sky Medical Technology. Go to www.skymedtech.com
1 Data on file Firstkind Ltd | 2 Thrombosis UK
Read more from this month’s Pf Magazine >