The University of Illinois Hospital & Health Science System recently implanted the NeuRx Diaphragm Pacing System in a patient with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

The device—which was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration last year under a Humanitarian Device Exemption—was implanted in Angela Thompson, 41, of Chicago, on July 27, 2012. Clinical trials have shown that the device may help people with ALS and chronic hypoventilation breathe and sleep better and delay the need for a ventilator for up to 18 months.

The device, which is implanted using minimally invasive laparoscopic techniques, provides electric stimulation to the muscle and nerves in the diaphragm. When stimulated, the diaphragm contracts, conditioning the muscle and improving resistance to fatigue under normal exertion.

Surgeons make four small incisions in the abdomen and insert a laparoscope to view the diaphragm and emplace small electrodes. The electrodes are connected by wires under the skin to a small, external, battery-powered pulse generator that stimulates the diaphragm. When the patient awakes after surgery, the device is programmed to allow an effective yet comfortable breath. Patients start with three 30-minute sessions daily. As the disease progresses, the conditioning time is increased.

Source: University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System