Aculight, a developer of innovative laser technologies, has been awarded a new contract under the federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programme. The $125k Phase I award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will fund development of a handheld laser-based nerve stimulator for use by ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialists to identify cranial nerves during surgery. The device will use infrared nerve stimulation (INS), a versatile technology that is also poised to diagnose and treat those suffering neurological trauma, including the growing population of young, brain-injured veterans returning from combat.
'This NIH award will lay the foundation for a laser-based, handheld, non-invasive tool that could help surgeons avoid the nerve damage that sometimes occurs during medical procedures,' said Mark Bendett, Aculight's director of medical products. 'For example, identifying the facial nerves during head and neck surgery substantially lowers the risk of facial paralysis, which can occur in extreme cases. This is yet another step in Aculight's plan to develop medical laser products that enhance peoples' lives through treatment of both acute and chronic neurological deficits.'
Ultimately, Aculight plans to develop a compact probe that gives a surgeon precise real-time feedback of cranial nerve function during the surgical procedure. Thanks to this ability to precisely locate critical nerves, the risk of inadvertent damage and subsequent functional loss could be significantly reduced. While electrical nerve stimulation has been in use for many years, infrared nerve stimulation promises improved spatial resolution and scanning ability, allowing superior tumour resection and surgical outcomes.
The new cranial nerve stimulator will be a key addition to the company's rapidly growing line of optical medical devices, following the development of the Capella R-1850, the first infrared neural stimulator. Moreover, the company is currently working toward the first optical cochlear implant (OCI).