Amongst the current flurry of wearable sensors and mHealth apps that appear to be so many elaborate toys, a new system called Quell stands out. It seems to have real potential to change lives… for many people with diabetes and beyond.
Quell is a first-of-its-kind, drug-free option for reducing the pain of neuropathy, sciatica, and other chronic pain through neural pulses — delivered by a band wrapped just below the knee, with a companion app that allows users to change settings and track sessions via a smartphone or iPad.
Its makers boast that it is “clinically proven to start relieving chronic pain in as little as 15 minutes… (with) FDA cleared prescription-strength technology that works with your own body by stimulating your nerves and blocking pain signals in your body.”
Approved by FDA last summer, Quell is just being launched now, following a highly successful Spring Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. It was debuted to the diabetes world in a decent-sized booth at the ADA Scientific Sessions in Boston a few weeks ago. The big expo signs touting “Wearable Pain Relief Technology” were hard to ignore. I spent about 40 minutes in the booth myself, talking with their experts and getting a demo of this insipid-looking Velcro band that’s creating such a stir.
Check out their marketing video here.
My first thought was that for many of our friends in the Diabetic Community who suffer from the pain of neuropathy, Quell could certainly be a boon!
From Calf to Brain
I learned that the device, made by a startup called NeuroMetrix in the Boston area, was developed in collaboration with the renowned design firm IDEO. Users simply wrap it around their upper calf, just below the knee, and turn it on for intermittent sessions of up to 60 minutes, followed by a rest period of another hour (more than 60 minutes at a time can cause overstimulation), we’re told.
The first time you use it, you calibrate the unit by testing different vibration intensity levels and pressing when you feel stimulation (user tip: the unit needs to be held upright while you do this). The companion app remembers your settings and tracks your sessions, for your own records and to share with a doctor, if desired.
Quell works by stimulating nerves in your upper calf with neural pulses, that trigger a pain relief response in your central nervous system that blocks pain signals in your body. So it helps treat pain in the back, legs, or feet –- the pain does not have to be located at or even near the spot on your leg where the unit is worn.
“A Huge Difference”
“There’s been a ton of excitement around this because there really are so few options for treating chronic pain. Some patients are on three to five different medications, which can be addictive or have other unwanted effects,” said Alyssa Fenoglio, NeuroMetrix Director of Marketing.
Indeed, the Quell Indiegogo campaign (“The World’s First Pain Relief Wearable!”) launched in March raised $100,000 in just 1.5 days, and over $387,000 in one month, Fenoglio says. As part of that, the company pre-sold nearly 2,000 units at an introductory discount of $199 per device.
The company’s been collecting user testimonials, with dozens of people saying things like “it makes a huge difference” and “I’m getting my life back” by being able to enjoy many activities again.
"It elevates your inherent pain-modulating chemicals — at a molecular level, it's what painkillers do synthetically. But you can essentially cause a similar effect without any of the downsides by electrically stimulating to induce your brain to produce these chemicals," CEO of NeuroMetrix Shai Gozani told Fast Company recently.
The use of electrical stimulation to fight pain has apparently been around since the 1970s. But NeuroMetrix has developed a novel, convenient way to deliver its benefits.
NeuroMetrix itself began as a spinoff of the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology in 1996, and has “spent nearly two decades of designing, building and marketing medical devices that stimulate nerves and analyze nerve response for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes.” Its Board of Directors includes Nancy Katz, who some may recognize as a diabetes expert who formerly served as VP of Consumer Marketing and Market Development at Medtronic.
Supply and Demand
Quell likely will not be covered by insurance, but it can be purchased using FSA debit cards. You can obtain Quell through selected physician’s offices (they’re expanding that network) or by purchasing it directly from the company online. The price is $249 for the device, plus $30 for a package of two replacement electrode strips, which need to be changed out every two weeks because sweat and oil from the skin wear them out, Fenoglio says.
OK, so if used regularly, the cost adds up to a little over $600 for the first year, and then ca. $360 in following years, which is less than the annual cost of prescription pain relief meds like Lyrica and Cymbalta — but without the side effects of weight gain, foot swelling, drowsiness and more. Not to mention potential negative drug interactions and long-term effects.
The Quell companion app is free to download and lets users track the number of sessions per day (time and intensity), change settings, and get alerts, such as when they are nearing the point of overstimulation or when it’s time to change the electrode strip.
The app also includes an accelerometer that can track activity and sleep (Quell has FDA clearance for nighttime use), so users could track the correlation of decreased pain with better sleep and more exercise over time, for example. With users’ permission, the company also plans to use data from the app to study Quell’s performance.
Seriously, who wouldn’t be interested in a non-invasive, drug-free, relatively affordable and easy-to-use wearable to reduce chronic pain?
My hope is that NeuroMetrix gets connected with efforts like the Diabetes Hope Conference, where people with diabetes meet online to discuss living well with complications like painful neuropathy. Because this is one Internet of Things/Health Wearable Gadget that the Diabetes Community ought to take seriously, IMHO.