What is neuromodulation?
Neuromodulation is technology that acts directly upon nerves. It is the alteration—or modulation—of nerve activity by delivering electrical or pharmaceutical agents directly to a target area.
Neuromodulation devices and treatments are life changing. They affect every area of the body and treat nearly every disease or symptom from headaches to tremors to spinal cord damage to urinary incontinence. With such a broad therapeutic scope, and significant ongoing improvements in biotechnology, it is not surprising that neuromodulation is poised as a major growth industry for the next decade.
How does neuromodulation work?
Neuromodulation works by either actively stimulating nerves to produce a natural biological response or by applying targeted pharmaceutical agents in tiny doses directly to site of action.
Neurostimulation devices involve the application of electrodes to the brain, the spinal cord or peripheral nerves. These precisely placed leads connect via an extension cable to a pulse generator and power source, which generates the necessary electrical stimulation. A low-voltage electrical current passes from the generator to the nerve and can either inhibit pain signals or stimulate neural impulses where they were previously absent.
Why is neuromodulation used?
Most frequently, people think of neuromodulation in the context of chronic pain relief, the most common indication. However, there are a plethora of neuromodulation applications, such as deep brain stimulation (DBS) treatment for Parkinson’s disease, sacral nerve stimulation for pelvic disorders and incontinence, and spinal cord stimulation for ischemic disorders (angina, peripheral vascular disease).
In addition, neuromodulation devices can stimulate a response where there was previously none, as in the case of a cochlear implant restoring hearing in a deaf patient.
And for every existing neuromodulatory treatment, there are many more on the horizon. An emerging technology called BrainGate Neural Interface System has been used to analyze brain signals and translate those signals into cursor movements, allowing severely motor-impaired individuals an alternate “pathway” to control a computer with thought, and offers potential for one day restoring some degree of limb movement.