Spinal surgery is not for the faint of heart at the best of times, but Intelligent Implants raised €7.5 million ($8.7 million) to make spinal surgery less of a pain in the backside. The company’s smart implants’ first application is in spinal fusion surgery — where two or more vertebrae are permanently connected to improve stability, correct a deformity or reduce pain. Globally, more than a million of these surgeries are performed, but they are typically seen as a last resort because of the risk of complications or continued pain after the operation.
Intelligent Implants uses wireless implantable electronics to stimulate, steer and monitor bone growth. The company points out that the current state-of-the-art post-operation management is potentially long-term dependence on physical therapy and/or painkillers. Intelligent Implants is wading into the market to add a more tech-forward solution to the mix.
The company’s smart, active implants aren’t the first devices in this category. You’ll be familiar with pacemakers and cochlear implants, which have been available since the 1950s and 1970s, respectively. Intelligent Implants’s innovation is in creating a solution that doesn’t require wires or batteries. The product is placed between vertebrae with the same standard surgical procedure as current non-active implants.
The implant is then powered externally through induction, much like how your phone might use a wireless charging pad. This creates an electric field that stimulates and guides bone growth.
The electrodes that are used for stimulation can also be used as sensors. The device consists of a standard orthopedic implant, with some additional magic thrown in. The magic, in this case, is a number of electrodes that can be used for neuromodulation to aid bone growth, along with some antennas and electronics to control it all. After fusion surgery, the patients wear a spinal corset to keep everything in place where it is meant to be — and that’s a convenient place to keep the power and control units for the device.
Zellmer explains that Intelligent Implants get the sensor side of the equation almost as a side effect of the bone-growth stimulation. He explains that the device can do impedance measurements. Bone doesn’t conduct very well, so when the graft material is gradually replaced by bone in the body, the electrical signature changes, and in the process you can measure the bone growth.
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