Patients Find Relief from Chronic Pain through New Device

Erika Petersen, M.D., shows Steve Moore, a patient who uses the Protege spinal neurostimulator, one of the parts of the device's system.

Petersen displays the Protege IPG. Despite its small size, the device contains a rechargable battery and is programmable.

Aug. 15, 2014 | Chronic pain had diminished the lives of both Steve Moore and Tony Yocom. Protégé, a new neurostimulation system implanted during surgery at UAMS, has given some of that life back.

UAMS neurosurgeon Erika Petersen, M.D. recently became the first neurosurgeon in Arkansas to implant in a patient the Protégé IPG device, the world’s first and only neurostimulation system that can be updated through software rather than surgery.

Until now, one of the greatest challenges with spinal cord stimulation therapies has been giving patients access to the latest technologies without surgically replacing their medical device.

The new technology can access innovative therapies, stimulation modes, diagnostics or other features, as they receive Food and Drug Administration approval through future software upgrades — without the need to surgically replace their medical device.

Protégé IPG is made by St. Paul, Minnesota-based St. Jude Medical, a medical device company. The FDA in April approved its use in patients.

Similar in function and appearance to a cardiac pacemaker, the Protégé neurostimulator delivers mild electrical pulses to the spinal cord, which interrupt or mask the pain signals' transmission to the brain. By masking the pain signals, patients who receive neurostimulation may see an overall improved quality of life.

“I’m going to be able to be active again and do things I had stopped doing because they hurt so much to do,” said Tony Yocom, one of Petersen’s patients who received the device in May. “I walked three miles the other day at a good clip, and it felt great. I could not even feel it.”

Yocom has painful-legs-moving toes (PLMT) syndrome, an adult-onset rare disorder characterized by pain in the feet or legs associated with writhing movements of one or more toes.

Steve Moore, a Sherwood resident who has been unable to work since he began experiencing severe back pain in early 2012, has been able to reduce the amount of pain medication he takes. He also can do light yard work he had been unable to do for himself since his chronic pain began.

“Often patients’ chronic pain restricts their day-to-day life and increases their dependence on others for help,” Petersen said. “The pain relief that spinal cord stimulation can offer results from changes in how nerves and the brain process pain without medication side effects. The new Protégé device takes it a step further by providing the ability to upgrade settings as innovations become available. Minimizing the number of surgical procedures improves outcomes like infection rate and mechanical complications.”

Protégé is the world’s smallest neurostimulator to treat chronic pain of the trunk or limbs and pain from failed back surgery. Patients are encouraged to talk with their physician if they believe they are experiencing chronic pain.

Chronic pain is a largely under-treated and misunderstood disease that affects more than 1.5 billion people worldwide, according to the American Academy of Pain Medicine. Neurostimulation studies have shown that spinal cord stimulation systems can often reduce pain symptoms by 50 percent or more. By providing significant pain relief, this therapy enables many patients to increase their activity levels and improve their overall quality of life.

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