According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), strokes are the leading cause of long-term disability in the U.S. and the third-leading cause of death. Someone suffers a stroke every 40 seconds in this country. The consequences – physically, emotionally, and financially – can be devastating.
Research has had a positive impact on improving stroke outcomes and, every once in a while, on-going research shows such potential that it is worth speculating about what it might mean for stroke patients even before it is completed. The VitalFlow stimulator, a revolutionary non-invasive medical device that treats strokes, is the kind of research project that generates such excitement.
According to Mark K. Barsody, M.D., Ph.D., Secretary and Founder of Orinda-based Northern Neurosciences, the not-for-profit research company that is helping to develop the device, “The VitalFlow Stimulator non-invasively increases blood flow to the brain by stimulating the facial nerve with pulses of magnetic energy. For more than a century, the facial nerve has been known to connect to the arteries of the brain, and for more than 30 years it has been known that these connections cause the arteries of the brain to relax and enlarge. The VitalFlow directs magnetic energy at the facial nerve where it last contains these projections to the brain arteries, which is behind the internal structures of the ear.”
“We have shown,” he continues, “that stimulation of the facial nerve with a VitalFlow prototype for a few minutes dilates the arteries of the brain for more than one hour, and it improves blood flow and reduces tissue damage in animal models of stroke. Furthermore, the VitalFlow prototype proved safe and tolerable in normal volunteers, in whom it increased blood flow to the brain by more than 20%.”
“The VitalFlow has the potential to be applied to stroke patients prior to diagnostic evaluation, bringing effective therapy to the ischemic stroke patient an hour or more earlier than can be achieved with the current therapies. An initial treatment with the VitalFlow may also make those current therapies more effective: dilating the arteries of the brain with the VitalFlow should improve delivery of thrombolytic drugs like t-PA to the site of the blood clot, and it should make for easier placement of endovascular catheters for blood clot retrieval. Thus, we see the VitalFlow as complementing existing treatments, not competing with them.”
“This early treatment,” adds Barsody, “will improve the odds of a good clinical outcome by as much as 170%. Each year this breakthrough treatment could save $518M in acute healthcare costs and $7.2B in lifetime healthcare costs and lost productivity in the U.S. alone.”
Like many medical treatments, stroke therapies are becoming increasingly expensive and are often restricted to the best-equipped and best-funded urban hospitals making them available to fewer patients. Even the highly touted clot-busting Tissue Plasminogen Activator (t-PA), which has been the gold-standard treatment for years, is still not available at many hospitals.
Since very little training or expertise would be needed to apply the VitalFlow, stroke treatment would no longer be limited to just select hospitals but could be initiated at ANY hospital. Barsody and his team of researchers even envision a version of VitalFlow for ambulances that would be “suitcase-portable.” Smaller versions of the device might be placed in high-traffic areas such as airports or shopping malls or even made available to those at high risk for stroke by placing them in their homes.
“It is our hope and intention that the VitalFlow will be a ubiquitously-available treatment for stroke analogous to the cardiac defibrillator for heart arrhythmias,” Barsody expounds enthusiastically. “In fact, one expert, after reviewing our data, even referred to the VitalFlow as the 'defibrillator' for the brain. Wouldn’t that be an exciting logo for the future!?!”
VitaFlow is not expected to be available for clinical use until early 2016 subject to continued funding. Funding to date has been generously provided by small and courageous investors such as Akron Bioinvestment Funds and the Bugher Foundation that are committed to stroke research, but additional funding is still needed in the absence of larger, better-known grant organizations and private investors.
Northern Neurosciences is conducting its VitalFlow research in conjunction with two other companies – the U.S.-based Lake Biosciences and MD-5 GmbH, the German subsidiary of Lake Biosciences based in Leipzig. For further information about VitalFlow, readers and potential investors should contact Dr. Barsody c/o Northern Neurosciencs, Inc, 88 Tarry Lane, Orinda, CA 94563, or communicate directly via their website at http://www.northern-neurosciences.com/.