FDA approves upgrade to Quell, a dongle that zaps away pain

Quell, a wearable pain relief technology device, is displayed at the Consumer Electronics Show last year.
Quell, a wearable pain relief technology device, is displayed at the Consumer Electronics Show last year.

NeuroMetrix Inc. will sell a new version of its pain-zapping dongle, Quell, starting this spring.

Quell is a battery operated device that relieves pain by delivering a small current of electricity to the body.

It looks like a powder compact and is worn strapped to the calf — that’s the best spot for Quell to work its magic, even if the wearer is aching elsewhere, because of how the body’s nerves are arranged. The zapping feels like a gentle vibration, according to Waltham-based NeuroMetrix.

The new version of Quell is approved by the Food and Drug Administration and has a longer battery life.  It’s also the first version that can be controlled remotely; wearers can adjust the intensity of the current and turn it on and off from an app on a smartphone.

Earlier versions of Quell have been able to sense when the wearer is asleep, and power off or decrease the intensity of stimulation during that time. NeuroMetrix claims this sleep-tracking feature has become more sophisticated in the new version.

“There’s a link between pain and sleep — if you’re in pain you don’t sleep if you don’t sleep well you pain is worse,” said Frank McGillin, senior vice president of consumer health at NeuroMetrix.

Although the idea of strapping a shock-emitting device to your leg might sound a little weird, “transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation” is an accepted form of medical therapy. Founder Shai Gozani founded the company in 1996 with the goal of bringing people relief with a device that was smaller than previous versions and had no wires.

In August, the company described the results of a study that followed 88 people who used the Quell device to treat a variety of conditions, including arthritis, diabetes, and sciatica. Two thirds of that group reported that they decreased their dose of pain meds while using the device.

The FDA approved the first version of the Quell device in 2014, and it went on sale last summer for $249. The new version will be available for sale in March. Both can be purchased without a prescription.

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and research. Email her at nidhi.subbaraman@globe.com.
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