San Diego startup Neuralace is developing a promising medical device, to provide a non-opioid alternative to treat chronic pain.
CEO Shiva Shukla said his exposure to the opioid problem began when he was a neurobiology undergraduate at UC Davis. He volunteered at a drug rehabilitation clinic, expecting to find while on the job stereotypical addicts as portrayed in movies and television.
Doctors Lacking Options, Keep Prescribing Opioids for Nerve Pain
“Instead, what I found was really responsible adults who had gone through a surgical procedure and became hooked on prescribed opioids in a week or two,” Shukla says. “It blew me away. And physicians are frustrated, too, because they don’t have anything else to offer these patients who are in pain.”
Instead of attending medical school, Shukla decided to study pain. And see if he could find a better way for patients to receive treatment for chronic pain.
How Magnetic Fields Treat Pain (No Opioids or Surgery Required)
Neuralace’s device, called Axon Therapy, is based on existing brain stimulation technology. Shukla worked for three years to build it. The idea behind it is that nerves continuously send signals to the brain, via electrical impulses. The absence of these signals, such as a damaged nerve, can lead to chronic pain.
The technology uses magnetic stimulation, whereby a magnet turns on and off quickly next to a nerve.
“When you create the right signal you can turn off the pain response. Pain is a lack of signal. When there’s trauma to an area in the nerve, that signal for no pain is also damaged; we go in and create that signal,” Shukla says, “And the body starts responding in a way the healthy nerve would.”
“Like Taking Two Hydrocodone Pills”, Device Tricks the Brain Out of Feeling Pain
In essence, the device tricks the brain. Treatments don’t necessarily repair damaged nerves according to Shukla, but rather flip the pain “off” switch.
The non-invasive device works by using two small MRIs to produce a focused magnetic field.
Neuralace has completed a clinical trial testing its device in 20 patients. On average, patients have experienced up to 80 percent reduction in pain after one month of Axon Therapy.
Patients in initial clinical trials have described the treatment as feeling relief that is equivalent to taking two hydrocodone pills. “The ones it worked for, they were in disbelief,” says Shukla who sees an immediate need among the worker’s comp and war veteran population.
“Patients can receive pain treatments with the [same] frequency of going to get a haircut. [And] there’s no side effects,” says Shukla.
Every day, more than 115 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse latest research. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total economic burden of prescription uploads misuse alone in the United States in $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity and criminal justice involvement.
Shukla’s hope is that with Axon therapy opioids will be a temporary solution – something chronic nerve pain patients can wean themselves off of.
“The goal is to save health care dollars,” says Shukla. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse a year of opioid medications can cost up to $14,000. But Shukla estimates that using Axon Therapy (for 16 treatments per year at $275 per treatment) could cost out of pocket roughly $4,400.
The Axon Therapy device will soon be tested in a trial at Scripps memorial Hospital in La Jolla, just outside San Diego.