Introducing Quell, The First Wearable Focused On Treating Chronic Pain

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This year, CES product unveils were dominated by wearables, each putting its own subtle spin on an already played out form factor. Google Glass saw a laundry list of copy-cats, but with cleaner, less intrusive designs. The smartwatch was re-imagined, seemingly by every company in attendance, with a few promising enhancements among the new designs. For fitness trackers, CES product unveils included new companies building new devices that delivered the same designs, sensors, and functions. It was beginning to seem like a yawn year for wearables, problematic considering many were calling this the “Year of the Wearable.” But then there was Quell.

Quell may not have rescued everyone’s dashed hopes for big wearables unveils at CES, but for those that follow digital health, the device is compelling and opens up an exciting new branch within wearables. Quell is a portable, smartphone-connected Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation device, or a TENS device, which in layman’s terms means that it uses electrical stimulation to treat chronic pain. Quell is worn around the calf, and with the push of a button, the device delivers a low-level electrical signal to the nervous system.

TENS technology traces its roots as far back as ancient Rome, where physicians noted that touching electric fish reduced pain. The modern application of TENS devices began in the 1970s when Medtronic pioneered research on the use of implantable TENS devices in the treatment of epilepsy. The use of TENS devices to treat chronic pain has been mired in controversy though, with multiple clinical trials finding limited evidence that the devices are effective. An important note is that there is a growing consensus that evidence does support the use of TENS devices to treat neuropathy pain, which is exactly the market that the Quell wearable is targeting.

NeruoMetrix’s new Quell wearable is an FDA-approved, over-the-counter device that uses TENS technology to reduce chronic pain for patients with fibromyalgia, sciatica, or diabetes, of which NeuroMetrix CEO Shai Gozani MD, PhD says, “Recent studies have shown that chronic nerve pain dramatically reduces the quality of life of people with diabetes.”  The device is designed to be worn 24 hours a day, and includes sensors so that it can track sleep patterns and adjust pain management therapies to maintain comfort while resting. One note of concern is that for a product with such a questionable underlying technology, one would expect that NeuroMetrix would publish clinical trial data to substantiate the effectiveness of the device, but they have yet to do so.

NeuroMetrix reports that they will begin taking preorders for Quell in March, and that devices will begin shipping during Q2 2015.


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