Medical devices that help paralyzed patients regain functionality and sensation got a push forward with government approval of a key radio frequency tuned to transmitting signals through the body.
Medical Micropower Networks transmit radio signals among multiple devices implanted in the body to activate and monitor nerves and muscles.
Early versions of the technology have allowed paraplegics to stand and the devices hold promise for patients with spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, stokes and other conditions by taking the place of damaged nerves.
"These broadband-enabled technologies are life-changing, impacting individuals, families, and communities in ways we can only begin to imagine," Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski wrote in a prepared statement.
"This order is one of the most important the commission has adopted during my tenure, because the innovation it unleashes—medical micro power networks—has the potential to greatly improve the lives of those who are faced with some of today’s most difficult medical challenges," commissioner Mignon Clyburn wrote in his statement.
With the FCC’s green light to use the spectrum, the Alfred Mann Foundation plans to launch human trials and seek FDA clearance for MNN devices. The foundation has spent $115 million and 11 years developing the technology, according to Clyburn.
The AMF launched a petition to push the FCC to open up the spectrum by demonstrating that medical devices wouldn’t disrupt other technologies communicating on those frequencies.
"The FCC’s decision removes the most significant roadblock to helping people. The frequency that has been approved for use is the most efficient for penetrating tissue with radio waves and without which the new generation of our implantable neurostimulator technology would be impossible to advance," CEO David Hankin said in prepared remarks. "The FCC worked hard and our scientists, engineers and prospective patients congratulate them for making a giant step toward making veterans’ and others’ lives better."
In a written response to the decision, FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell lauded the AMF for its perseverance and offered an apology on behalf of the government.
"Regrettably, bureaucratic delay literally forced disabled patients to wait much longer than necessary to benefit from some amazing emerging technologies," he wrote. "Congratulations to the paralyzed patients who now have more than hope to support them – they will have the power of their own bodies. To you I also offer the apology of your government for consuming nearly half a decade to reach this point."
The FCC granted MMN systems a critical frequency band, between 413 megahertz and 457 megahertz, on which the transmitters may communicate. The same frequencies are used by the Dept. of Defense as well as amateur radio operators, Bloomberg reported.