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Synapse Biomedical's pacemaker for the diaphragm frees paralysis patients from machines

A pacemaker for the heart is commonplace. So why not a pacemaker for the diaphragm?

Thanks to Synapse Biomedical in Oberlin, that vision is now a reality.

Formed 2002 as one of Cleveland-based JumpStart's original portfolio companies, Synapse has commercialized technology developed at Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals in Cleveland.

The company's NeuRx Diaphragm Pacing System works by electrically stimulating the nerves that control the diaphragm -- the organ that works like an internal billows to relax and contract the lungs. People with spinal cord injuries, Lou Gehrig's Disease and other neurological ailments previously spent their lives attached to mechanical ventilators.

One early user -- in fact the third ever -- was actor Christopher Reeve, who needed assistance breathing after he was paralyzed in a fall from a horse.

"We now have about 350 people implanted with the device from Iceland to Australia," says Tony Ignagni, Synapse's president and CEO.

Approved in Europe for a wide range of disorders, the pacing system currently is approved in the U.S. only for spinal cord injuries, Ignani says.

"Right now our main focus is on getting the ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) approval in the U.S. We've collected all the data and we're working through an FDA process."

The company has about a dozen employees, but with approval for additional uses in the United States, that number could rise, Ignani says.

"The ALS market is actually about 10 times the size of the spinal cord market."

Source: Tony Ignagni, Synapse Biomedical
Writer: Gene Monteith

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