A small technology company based in southern Belgium is set to take on the giant US market with its crowning achievement: an anti-migraine headband. A product of years of medical and technological research, the device is a diadem fitted with electrodes designed to take the edge off migraines before they develop into acute blinding pain.
Migraine, a deep headache that develops behind the eyes and can last for days, is estimated to affect about one in seven adults around the world, World Health Organisation data shows. It appears to be less common in the Far East, but overall it affects up to three times more women than men because of differences in hormonal activity. The band, developed by the Belgian company Cefaly Technology, is worn across the forehead, and sends electric currents to facial nerves. Although the device is not a cure for severe headaches, the manufacturers believe it could stop the transition from "episodic" migraines to the more severe "chronic" category.
The WHO says that migraine is one of the top 20 causes of disability in terms of years of healthy life lost. The battery-powered headband, which was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in March, will be the first device with this design available in the United States. According to Cefaly Technology's managing director Pierre Rigaux, while the headband is already on the European market, the long-awaited FDA approval will open the way to a 25-percent boost in sales over the next five years. The device will hit the US market at a time when medical experts are putting more trust in non-pharmaceutical responses to migraines.
Giles Elrington, the medical director of the National Migraine Centre, a British charity research centre, said that techniques targeting the patient's head, in contrast to the use of drugs affecting the whole body, will be a "huge area of development in coming years". One of the creators of the migraine headband said that international technological developments in the field mean that "the course had been set" for the use of electrical stimulation to treat a number of pathologies, including headaches and insomnia.
Founded in 2004 by a 58-year-old medical doctor and an engineer, Cefaly Technology took its first steps by researching the area of sports medicine, a field in which electrical stimulation of muscles was nothing new. The challenge for the company was to apply those techniques to the external stimulation of nerves. Electrodes had traditionally been implanted to be effective - for example, into the spinal cord to treat chronic pain. Rigaux believes that research was a turning point, because US authorities "immediately saw a new treatment, which was non-invasive and not involving drugs, as a positive".