Health & Wellbeing

First US patient receives cluster headache-stopping facial implant

First US patient receives clus...
The ATI Neurostimulator (on skull, at left) and its handheld remote control (Photo: The Ohio State University)
The ATI Neurostimulator (on skull, at left) and its handheld remote control (Photo: The Ohio State University)
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The ATI Neurostimulator (on skull, at left) and its handheld remote control (Photo: The Ohio State University)
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The ATI Neurostimulator (on skull, at left) and its handheld remote control (Photo: The Ohio State University)
The implant never has to be accessed or removed, and should be unnoticeable to the patient (Photo: Autonomic Technologies Inc.)
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The implant never has to be accessed or removed, and should be unnoticeable to the patient (Photo: Autonomic Technologies Inc.)
When a patient feels a cluster headache coming on, they place the handheld controller against their cheek (Photo: The Ohio State University)
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When a patient feels a cluster headache coming on, they place the handheld controller against their cheek (Photo: The Ohio State University)
The controller is preprogrammed to provide a length and level of stimulation that's appropriate to their particular condition (Photo: Autonomic Technologies Inc.)
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The controller is preprogrammed to provide a length and level of stimulation that's appropriate to their particular condition (Photo: Autonomic Technologies Inc.)

While they may not be quite as well-known as migraines, cluster headaches are even more painful, and can occur several times a day. There's presently no cure, although a new "neurostimulator" is claimed to help control them. A US clinical trial of the device has just begun, with a test subject recently having had one implanted beneath his cheekbone.

Developed by San Francisco-based Autonomic Technologies Inc (ATI), the "almond-sized" device was inserted through a 2-cm (0.8-in) incision in the recipient's gum, at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Anchored to the skull under the cheekbone, on the side of the face affected by the headaches, the implant works by stimulating the sphenopalatine ganglion (SPG). This is a nerve bundle located behind the nose, and it's associated with the transmission of the headache pain. Past approaches have included permanently cutting or chemically burning the SPG.

When a patient feels a cluster headache coming on, they place a separate handheld controller against their cheek. It wirelessly activates the neurostimulator, which in turn blocks the pain signals sent via the SPG. The controller is preprogrammed by the patient's physician, to provide a length and level of stimulation that's appropriate to their particular condition.

When a patient feels a cluster headache coming on, they place the handheld controller against their cheek (Photo: The Ohio State University)
When a patient feels a cluster headache coming on, they place the handheld controller against their cheek (Photo: The Ohio State University)

While the handheld unit has a rechargeable battery, the implant itself requires no battery of any type. This means that it never has to be accessed or removed, and should be unnoticeable to the patient.

Although the ATI Neurostimulator System has already been tested in Europe and is available in some markets there, this marks its first use in the US. Plans call for a total of 120 test subjects to receive the device, as part of a multi-center trial that will continue over the course of several years.

More information is available in the following video.

Sources: The Ohio State University, Autonomic Technologies Inc.

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2 comments
KatieGerrish-wilcox
omg this would save my life I have had cluster headaches for 7 years and the pain is so severe is this treatment an option where would I find info on that?
GregglesGarrett
I've had cluster headaches for over 20 years, in addition to a few other chronic headache problems I was diagnosed with. If this device works it could be an for real miracle machine. Currently I receive botox shots every 3 months for my headaches and they work in conjunction with other medications and meditation. I still get headaches but not as often or as severe but this could be the missing piece. Is there any more info on the trial?