How Nikola Tesla Inspired Next-Gen Wearables for Chronic Pain

Posted in Research and Development by Brian Buntz on March 7, 2016

Diathermy, a technology with roots stretching back to the late 1800s, could offer significant benefits to legions of chronic pain and arthritis patients as well as athletes with sore muscles.

Brian Buntz

VIVY from ReGear
The prototype diathermy knee-wrap is known as VIVY is now the subject of a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo.

Chronic pain affects more people than patients with cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, according to figures from the Institute of Medicine. Despite the high numbers of patients in chronic pain, few good treatments exist. For instance, the ability of over-the-counter drugs to mask chronic pain is limited. In addition, many prescription drugs for chronic pain are potentially addictive. 

Inspired by this need, a company known as ReGear Life Sciences LLC (Pittsburgh, PA) has launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to bring a unique deep-heat technology known as VIVY to the consumer market for pain relief. “Diathermy provides energy that can penetrate deep into the tissue to provide prescription-grade therapy that also offers therapeutic benefits,” says Mike Thomas, the company’s president and CEO. The technology differs from simpler heating technologies such as heating pads and compresses in that it delivers the most heat at the deep tissue level.

Diathermy, or electrically induced heat, has a long history. Invented by legendary Serbian-born, American inventor Nikola Tesla, diathermy has been refined by the U.S. Navy, who used it for warming deep sea divers and for the SEAL team.

The technology also has extensive clinical applications, for a variety of surgical applications, including cauterizing blood vessels in eye surgery and neurosurgery and is used for physical and occupational therapy applications.

“The reason why deep heat with diathermy has become a standard of pain relief and tissue repair with sports teams and physical therapists is because it uses  high-frequency current to inductively couple with the fluids in the musculoskeletal tissue,” Michael Cheney, VP Marketing, says. “The heat emanates there. It does so by ‘stirring up’ the ions in the blood and the fluid, through an eddy current. It bounces the ions off of each other and the resulting friction creates heat,” he adds. “You are emanating heat in the deep tissue instead of putting it on top of the skin and hoping it travels sufficiently downward. It is more efficient if your therapeutic goal is relieving pain, relaxing muscles, or loosening up frozen joints.”

“What we have done over the past year, as wearables have become more acceptable, is to work towards bringing this unique deep-heat, prescription-grade modality to consumers,” Thomas says.

The company says its technology will be portable and powered by a rechargeable battery, so consumers can put the device in a bag or a purse and can bring it to the office or gym or wherever else they need it. In addition, the technology will work in conjunction with a smartphone, enabling users to keep track of their treatment regimen and potentially collaborate remotely with, say, a physical therapist.

Commonly used by physical therapy clinics, college athletic departments, and professional sports teams, diathermy could have an array of benefits for consumers. In addition to its benefits to relieve chronic pain, it can also help people suffering from arthritis. “It loosens  frozen joints because of the metabolic, hemodynamic and neuromuscular effects of delivering therapeutic deep heat,” Cheney says. “Therapeutic heat also stimulates vasodilation, which results in increased blood flow, delivering more oxygen and nutrients to the site, helping to cleanse away debris,” Cheney says. “That is why  it helps to accelerate healing.”

The company hopes its Indiegogo campaign will educate consumers about the technology. “We found out at CES that very few people know about the potential of benefits of diathermy.”

ReGear Life Sciences holds about a dozen patents related to the technology and has developed ambulatory diathermy units for use in physical therapy and by athletic clients. They continue to innovate, working on VIVY as a wearable version of the technology for treating chronic pain.

ReGear is currently working on its 510(k) submission for the device and has factored the need to obtain FDA’s blessing into its fundraising campaign. It has already worked with FDA to win 510(k) clearance for its units designed for use by physical therapists.  “We tried to be clear in our Indiegogo listing that this is an investigational device. It plans on using the crowdfunding to help move the prototype for the device into manufacturing. “In exchange for contributions, we are offering certificates for a free device when it is available. We are also going to offer everyone a 30-day risk free trial period when the device is shipped. If it doesn’t help them, we’ll give  their contribution back.”

Learn more about cutting-edge medical devices at BIOMEDevice Boston, April 13–14, 2016.

Brian Buntz is the editor-in-chief of Qmed. Follow him on Twitter at @brian_buntz. 

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