The ARC nerve-stimulation system by startup Onward Medical has reached a significant breakthrough in its mission to help quadriplegic patients regain mobility. This cutting-edge therapy system recently achieved a remarkable milestone with the successful installation of a brainwave-driven implantable electrode array, offering the potential to restore function and sensation to patients’ hands and arms. Remarkably, this achievement follows closely on the heels of a similar successful implementation aimed at assisting patients in regaining a more natural walking gait, showcasing the versatility of the ARC system.
The ARC system boasts different configurations tailored to address specific medical challenges. For instance, there’s the ARC-EX, an external, non-invasive stimulator array designed to be placed on the patient’s lower back. It serves multiple functions, including regulating bladder control, managing blood pressure, and enhancing limb function and control. In a previous study conducted in May, Onward utilized the ARC-EX in conjunction with a BCI (Brain-Computer Interface) controller from CEA-Clinatec, effectively creating a “digital bridge” to bridge the gap in the patient’s spinal column, enabling more natural walking.
However, the recent breakthrough, which was published in a study, centers around the ARC-IM, an implantable version of Onward’s stimulator array. This remarkable device is surgically installed near the spinal cord and is controlled using wearable components and a smartwatch. Onward had previously employed the ARC-IM to enable paralyzed patients to stand and walk short distances independently, earning the device an FDA Breakthrough Device Designation in 2020.
The implantation procedure, spearheaded by neurosurgeon Dr. Jocelyne Bloch, involved a 46-year-old patient grappling with a C4 spinal injury. Here’s where the technology gets truly futuristic. The BCI utilized in this procedure features hair-thin leads that capture electrical signals from the patient’s brain. These analog signals are then transformed into digital data comprehensible to machines. This digital information is transmitted to a nearby computing device where a machine learning AI steps in to interpret the patient’s electrical signals and issues commands to the implanted stimulator array. In essence, the patient merely has to think about what they want to do, and these two remarkable devices work in tandem to translate intention into computer-controlled movement.
Of course, the efficacy of this translation remains a subject of observation as the patient learns to adapt to this groundbreaking system. Dr. Bloch shared her optimism, stating that “The implant procedures involving the Onward ARC-IM and Clinatec BCI went smoothly.” She added, “We are now working with the patient to use this cutting-edge innovation to recover movement of his arms, hands, and fingers.” The medical community eagerly awaits further developments in this promising venture.
Onward Medical is part of a rapidly expanding field of BCI-based startups, all dedicated to harnessing this emerging technology for various medical applications. These encompass addressing limb loss and restoring self-regulatory functions in individuals who have experienced strokes, traumatic brain or spinal cord injuries, and aiding in physical rehabilitation following such injuries. Additionally, BCIs hold tremendous promise as a means of communication for individuals living with Locked-In Syndrome.
Onward CEO Dave Marver expressed hope that, if the therapy continues to demonstrate its potential, it could become available to patients by the end of the decade. However, he emphasized that the company is actively working to commercialize their external spinal cord stimulation solution, ARC-EX Therapy, with the goal of restoring hand and arm function as early as the second half of 2024. This dedication to making these groundbreaking treatments accessible underscores the transformative potential of the ARC nerve-stimulation system, bringing hope and progress to those living with spinal cord injuries.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Neurostimulation
What is the ARC nerve-stimulation system?
The ARC nerve-stimulation system is an innovative medical technology developed by startup Onward Medical. It consists of implantable electrode arrays and external stimulator arrays designed to restore function and sensation to the hands, arms, and lower limbs of quadriplegic patients.
How does the ARC system work?
The ARC system uses brainwave control through a Brain-Computer Interface (BCI). Thin leads from the BCI pick up electrical signals from the patient’s brain, convert them into digital data, and transmit them to a computing device. A machine learning AI interprets these signals and commands an implanted stimulator array to create computer-controlled movement in response to the patient’s thoughts.
What are the different configurations of the ARC system?
There are two primary configurations of the ARC system. The ARC-EX is an external, non-invasive stimulator array that can be placed on the lower back to regulate bladder control, blood pressure, and improve limb function and control. The ARC-IM is an implantable version that is surgically placed near the spinal cord and controlled through wearable components and a smartwatch.
Has the ARC system been tested on patients?
Yes, the ARC system has been tested on patients suffering from spinal cord injuries. In a recent study, a 46-year-old patient with a C4 spinal injury received the ARC-IM implant along with the Clinatec BCI. The procedure went smoothly, and the patient is currently undergoing rehabilitation to regain movement in their arms, hands, and fingers.
When can we expect the ARC system to be available to patients?
The availability of the ARC system to patients is dependent on further testing and regulatory approvals. Onward Medical’s CEO, Dave Marver, expressed hope that if the therapy continues to show promise, it could become available by the end of the decade. Additionally, they aim to commercialize the ARC-EX Therapy to restore hand and arm function in the second half of 2024.