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Boston Globe 01/17/2015

Treating Pain With Pulses, Not Drugs

LAS VEGAS — The black band of rubberized fabric in Shai Gozani’s hand looks like the kind of support strap an athlete might wear around his leg. But this one has something extra — a small black box stuffed with electronics that promise a high-tech solution to severe pain.

Quell Wearable Pain Relief

The Quell system by NeuroMetrix Inc. of Waltham is a computer-controlled, battery-powered painkiller that uses electrical pulses rather than drugs to treat back, joint, and limb pain. The device has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and is due to go on sale this summer for $250 — without a prescription.

“I don’t want to imply that it’s a replacement for medications. It’s a complement to medications,” said Gozani, who demonstrated the Quell recently at International CES, the consumer electronics convention in Las Vegas. “But it gives the patient control of their pain.”

Gozani, an electrical engineer with a doctorate in neurobiology from the University of California and an MD from Harvard, founded NeuroMetrix in 1996. The publicly traded company mostly makes diagnostic tools for doctors to treat nerve disorders. Quell is its first product designed for consumers.

Pushbutton pain relief might sound as sketchy as an ad on late-night TV, but for years, doctors have used transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or TENS, to comfort patients. A TENS machine sends low-voltage electricity through the patient’s nervous system. In response, the patient’s body increases its output of endorphins and enkephalins, two naturally occurring chemicals that tend to reduce pain. The treatment can be an effective alternative to drugs and poses no risk of addiction.

“TENS has been applied widely in physical therapy and rehabilitation,” said Daniel Carr, director of the Pain, Research Education & Policy program at the Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. “It does appear to work.”

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