Brussels, 24 Feb 2005
A Dutch-UK Eureka project has developed a nerve stimulator implant that helps drop foot sufferers walk more easily and faster.
Foot drop sufferers are unable to bend their ankle and toes backwards. The condition occurs when the muscles in this area, which usually help the foot clear the ground during the swing phase of walking, are weak and cannot do their job effectively.
Foot drop can be associated with a variety of conditions such as dorsiflexor injuries, peripheral nerve injuries, diabetes, neuropathies, drug toxicities, or strokes. Over 500,000 people suffer from a stroke every year in Europe, and around ten per cent are left with drop foot.
Current treatments for the condition have significant drawbacks. Dutch project partner Dr Hermie Hermens from Roessingh Research and Development explains: 'Either the ankle joint is fixed by a brace, or electrical stimulation is applied to a nerve in the leg through electrodes attached to the skin surface. The electrodes must be placed accurately, which is difficult, painful and time consuming.'
The new system involves an implanted component that is attached to the appropriate nerves, thus eliminating the problems of electrode placement. The electrical stimulation is not painful as the stimulation current does not pass across the skin, says Dr Hermens.
The project used technology originally developed for bladder stimulation by FineTech Medical in the UK.
A clinical trial is currently testing the device and patients' reactions to it, and initial results show that participants are able to walk better, faster and further, with a more stable gait.
The partners expect the device to be well received by the market, and to sell around 30,000 units per year. Commercialisation cannot begin until clinicians have been trained on the surgical procedure for implantation, as well as the benefits. The consortium is therefore currently working with surgical teams to raise awareness of the technology.
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