The future of nerve stimulation therapies depends on greater selectivity, easier implantation, and wider adoption. To bring us closer to these objectives, imec explores novel stimulation methods and leverages its knowhow in implantables.
Peripheral nerve stimulation (PNS) is being extensively explored as a treatment for afflictions such as epilepsy, chronic pain, depression and inflammatory bowel disease. Its working principle is to alter the default electrical activity of neural fibers in the peripheral nervous system. These fibers connect the brain to the peripheral organs of the body such as the heart, lungs and intestines. Oftentimes, the cervical vagus nerve is specifically targeted.
Such bioelectronic medicine (BEM) treatment impacts people’s wellbeing without the need for – or as a complement to – pharmacological therapies. And in contrast to conventional pharmaceutically administered medicine, it can be switched on and off instantaneously.
To enhance the comfort and efficiency of future PNS implants, imec researchers are looking towards various improvements – both at the level of the system and of its components.
Current chronic PNS systems mostly rely on bipolar or tripolar cuff electrodes wrapped around, for instance, the vagus nerve. The electrical stimulation is typically delivered through repetition of short pulses with parameters tuned to maximize treatment efficiency while minimizing the side effects.
This method delivers good results and has improved many people’s lives. However, there’s ample room for improvement. The main drawbacks of current chronic PNS implant technologies are:
How can we radically improve the selectivity of nerve stimulation towards better outcomes? Imec researchers are investigating intermittent interferential current stimulation (i2CS). It’s a promising method, but it calls for specific electronics with rigorous requirements, and the introduction of novel multi-contact electrodes. The main technological challenges include synchronous delivery of interferential currents through electrode pairs and the ability to minimize signal distortion and leakages when injecting high currents at high frequencies.
To enable this new approach, in collaboration with Feinstein Institute for Medical Research and other partners, imec is overcoming technological challenges and investigating the effects of applying i2CS to living tissue. We do this through:
The main research outcomes include:
To advance PNS implant technology, imec not only works on novel stimulation methods, but also leverages its wide expertise in implantable technologies. This allows us to assist partners in developing systems that are:
Read the 2021 press release about our collaboration with Neurogyn
Our toolbox ranges from miniaturization strategies and wireless powering to ultra-low-power radio for data transfer and algorithms to enable closed-loop solutions.
Imec’s selective PNS technology results in:
Do you want to boost your R&D into a next-gen solution for peripheral nerve stimulation? We’re ready to help you out by offering access to our toolbox of technologies and assist you in system development – including companion devices for the implant. Moreover, our technological expertise is backed by our knowhow and experience in clinical areas such as cardiovascular, respiratory and renal health.