Stentrode device begins clinical trials in patients

The research team behind Stentrode – a tiny device that electrically stimulates the brain to allow movement for people with paralysis – has begun clinical trials in Melbourne.

Once implanted in the brain via a minimally invasive procedure, Stentrode records electrical signals associated with intent-to-move thoughts and decodes those signals into electronic commands, thus enabling people with paralysis to perform daily living activities with the power of their thoughts alone.

Tom HuxleyNicholas Opie
Associate Professors Tom Oxley and Nicholas Opie

Stentrode was developed by researchers from the University of Melbourne, Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, the Royal Melbourne Hospital, Monash University and the company Synchron Australia – the corporate vehicle established by Associate Professors Thomas Oxley (CEO) and Nicholas Opie (CTO) that aims to develop and commercialise minimally-invasive neural bionics technology and products.

To develop its technology, Synchron has combined expertise from the departments of engineering and medicine at the University, as well as from other institutions in the Parkville precinct. In designing its manufacturing specifications, pre-clinical and clinical strategy, Synchron has obtained guidance from a large range of engineering, quality, regulatory, clinical and reimbursement experts.

In August last year, these development efforts led to the Stentrode device being implanted in a first clinical trial participant with motor neurone disease. That participant is now using the technology in his home to control a computer with his mind. Restoration of his ability to communicate has significantly improved his quality of life and increased his autonomy. The device has recently been implanted in a second participant, with an additional three participants scheduled later this year.

Synchron’s success to date is testament to a successful long-standing collaboration between the company and the University of Melbourne. Together, the University and Synchron have acquired an aggregate of more than $25m in grants and private investment.

Over the last eight years, the Vascular Bionics Laboratory within the Department of Medicine (co-led by Drs Oxley and Opie) have been highly successful, in winning more than 27 local and international government grants, including from the US Department of Defense, DARPA and ONR Global.

The team has published more than 26 manuscripts on the Stentrode, including in Nature Biotechnology and Nature Biomedical Engineering. The University and Synchron have filed more than 40 patents and presented their research at more than 100 invited conferences.

The team has been awarded numerous local and international awards for their research (INDEX2017, NetExplo, BCI Award) and multidisciplinary team excellence (Eureka Award, UoM Excellence Award) and has been active in reinforcing the benefits of industry-university collaboration through media releases and advertising material. This includes having a Stentrode displayed outside Victoria Station for the UoM Made Possible in Melbourne campaign, and a public endorsement of the technology that ‘has the potential to transform lives’ from former President Barack Obama.

Synchron’s vision is to continue to collaborate with the University to develop multiple products to address neurological conditions, all based on its minimally invasive technology and to clinically translate those developments here in Melbourne.

Synchron’s technology represents a significant breakthrough in brain machine interface technology in that it circumvents the need for a craniotomy that has been required for all technologies seeking to access the information rich and high frequency signal regions of the brain. In addition to the significantly improved safety profile of Synchron’s technology, it supports a take-home device configuration. Synchron’s product is currently positioned to be the first commercially available brain-machine interface product.