WVU Medicine uses cellphone-sized device to prevent and treat migraines

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va – The West Virginia University Medicine Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute (RNI) is running a clinical trial on a cellphone-sized electronic device that can help prevent migraines.

Around 40 million people in the U.S. suffer from migraines and it costs the American economy at least $50 billion a year. This is according to Dr. Umer Najib, the Director of Headache Medicine Fellowship Program at RNI, who said the trial currently has 15 patients and that it will run for a year. Each patient will be part of the trial for roughly six months Najib said and the goal is to incorporate as many people as possible.

Najib said the vagus nerve stimulator device is a neuromodulator, which means it uses electric and magnetic pulses that modulate the pain centers of the brain, preventing migraines.

The device works by the patient pressing it to the part of their neck, where the vagus nerve passes through, three times a day for two minutes each time and choosing a level of stimulation that feels comfortable. He said tests on animals have proven that the device has the potential of being effective but that they would not know for certain without clinical trials on humans.

“This is a sham-controlled trial,” Najib said. “What that means is that some patients will get the real device and some patients will get the dummy device. However, after the first three months, all the patients get the real device, this was something that was important to me because in our state we’ve had a big problem of opioid overuse and chronic pain in general.”

That’s what makes the device exciting, Najib said, it’s noninvasive and does not pose a risk of addiction or side effects to patients. They are not testing it on pregnant women or children in this clinical trial, however, he said in theory, there should be no reason it does not work for them as well.

Given the socio-economic situation of the state, many of the latest treatments and technologies have not been available to patients, but now, at RNI, there’s a cutting edge method that is being tested right here in West Virginia Najib said. What has been available are normal medications that do not work for everybody.

“The mainstay of migraine treatment is a medication called triptans and it’s very common that these medications can cause chest tightness, throat tightness, drowsiness, slowing of the brain to the point where patients avoid taking these medications,” Najib said. “They avoid taking these medications until the migraine attack becomes so severe that it’s nearly impossible to treat it in time.”

Each patient responds to treatment differently, Najib said, so some may go into remission, meaning they stop having migraine attacks, while others may have to use the device for years to battle theirs. He said it’s exciting for those that can achieve remission and also for those who don’t because at least they can go through their day to day life without having to worry about the side effects that are associated with normal medication that is used for the treatment of the disease.

If you would like to take part in the trial you can contact Lauren Chase at 304-598-4000 (ext. 79418).

“Our goal is to enroll as many patients as we can, the more data that we have, the more confident we can be of the results,” Najib said. “So there’s no upper limit, the more patients we can enroll, the more patients we can get this treatment to, the better it will be.”

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