Imagine waking up every morning with a tremor – a shaking so pronounced that you can’t even pick up a glass of water without spilling it. Simple tasks like tying your shoes and signing your name become impossible. A relaxing dinner out feels socially challenging instead.
This is the reality as many as 10 million Americans face every day, plagued by a neurological condition called essential tremor, a chronic movement disorder. For some, medication helps, but between 30 and 50 percent of cases don’t respond adequately to medication. For those patients, the alternative is a complex surgical procedure that implants permanent electrodes deep in the brain, through an incision in the skull, attached to a pacemaker-like device in the chest.
But promising new technology developed by a company called INSIGHTEC is providing a more effective, less invasive alternative to surgery for some patients. INSIGHTEC’s Exablate Neuro device uses focused ultrasound waves to precisely target the small area of the brain responsible for essential tremors and effectively turns them off. All without a single incision and patients can go home the same day.
It’s the first focused ultrasound device approved by the FDA to treat essential tremor that has not responded to medication. And it’s as effective as the current invasive surgical treatment at about a quarter of the cost. Yet the real results aren’t reflected in numbers, but rather in lives impacted.
“Our device provides an incisionless procedure for immediate tremor relief,” explains INSIGHTEC CEO Maurice R. Ferré, M.D. “We hear stories from patients and family members who are in tears of joy about the results, allowing people to get back to work, their hobbies, socializing. One patient was a dentist who had to leave his practice. After treatment he was able to return. We’re changing lives every day.”
To get this technology to the patients who would benefit from it most, INSIGHTEC realized very early in the development process it needed a partner that could provide not only funding support, but also assistance navigating the complex regulatory and reimbursement environment of the U.S. health care industry. That partner emerged in Koch Disruptive Technologies (KDT).
“The investments that KDT has made are helping us scale production of these devices, but their partnership goes far beyond just infusing capital,” Ferré explained. “Koch’s expertise in supply chain, electronics manufacturing and public sector are helping us cut through the regulatory red tape and bring this to scale – and to hundreds of patients across the U.S. – faster than we ever thought possible.”
Progress has been astounding. In 2018 INSIGHTEC’s Exablate Neuro procedures for essential tremor were approved for Medicare coverage in 25 states, and more than 1,200 patients have had their lives dramatically improved as a result.
Yet, as big a game-changer as focused ultrasound is for essential tremor, the promise of this innovative treatment is just beginning. Long term, INSIGHTEC believes it has the potential to replace invasive brain surgery for a whole host of diseases, as well as deliver critical therapies past the blood-brain barrier – something never before possible. To that end, the technology is currently in trials for treating brain cancer, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer's disease.
“We see this as a positive, life-changing medical breakthrough that is just beginning to impact lives. Where robotics surgery was 10 to 20 years ago is where we think focused ultrasound is today,” said Ferré. “It’s all about innovation for good, that makes people’s lives better.”