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New Zealand Neuroscience Company Exsurgo Announces Success Of Breakthrough Chronic Pain Management Trial

A recent UK study has confirmed the exciting potential of a breakthrough treatment for chronic pain management developed by New Zealand neuroscience company, Exsurgo.

Chronic pain (defined as pain that persists for longer than three months) affects up to 1 in 5 people around the world and is a massive burden on healthcare systems and economies. A 2018 report commissioned by the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA) estimated the total annual cost to New Zealand of chronic pain at $13-14.9 billion - greater than those for diabetes, dementia and smoking.[1]

Exsurgo’s ‘Axon’ system uses EEG (electroencephalography) neurofeedback to train chronic pain sufferers to manage their pain – and avoid or reduce the use of pharmaceutical drugs that bring risks of addiction or side effects.

In the UK study, conducted from mid 2020 until early 2021, patients reported significant reductions in their levels of pain as well as in anxiety and depression. At the same time, they reported improvements in sleep, mood and quality of life. Furthermore, the improvements from the eight weeks of neurofeedback training were sustained at follow up points – 4, 12 and 26 weeks. See below for further details. The full results of the trial are expected to be published shortly in a medical journal.

The UK study was intentionally small-scale, involving 16 patients, to serve as a proof-of-concept for the Axon system and lay the groundwork for further research. A much larger clinical trial is due to start in New Zealand shortly.

EEG neurofeedback is a non-invasive therapy that works by monitoring brain activity and using that data to help the patient ‘retrain’ how their brain responds to nerve signals from the body.

The science of electroencephalography (EEG) has been around for almost a century and has been used in neurofeedback research since the early 1960’s, including by NASA – who used neurofeedback to train pilots[2].

However, conventional EEG neurofeedback is complicated and costly for both patient and doctor – requiring regular attendance at a specialist clinic and equipment costing up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and so it has not been used extensively for treatment of chronic pain and other ailments. Exsurgo plan to change this with the Axon system, harnessing the latest science and AI technology to make EEG neurofeedback therapy faster, better and much cheaper.

Dr Nick Birch FRCS (Orth), a Consultant Spinal Specialist at East Midlands Spine Ltd who was the trial’s Principal Investigator and acts as a Clinical Advisor to Exsurgo commented: “Through 30 years’ clinical work and research, I recognise that chronic pain and the conditions associated with it - including sleep disturbance, functional loss, depression and anxiety – place a huge toll on patients and their families. Chronic pain is not only highly prevalent, but also notoriously difficult to manage in primary and secondary care. The excellent results from this trial show that Axon neurofeedback ‘brain training’ may provide an easy-to-use, very-low-risk home-based solution for managing chronic pain and its associated disorders.”

Exsurgo’s Chief Science Officer Christine Ozolins said while the company had been confident the UK trial would deliver a positive outcome, the results had exceeded expectations.

“We always believed in the power of Axon and EEG neurofeedback to enable people to self-manage their chronic pain, but we were pleasantly surprised by the strength of the related benefits such as improved sleep, mood and quality of life. The fact that these positive changes have continued for an extended period is an excellent indication that EEG neurofeedback therapy can deliver sustainable benefits to chronic pain sufferers.

“It is also noteworthy that this study took place during the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic – a time when chronic pain sufferers were experiencing an increase in their symptoms[3]. With clinic-based forms of treatment much more problematic during this time, Axon neurofeedback training at home proved to be easy to use. Remote interventions like this may represent the future of healthcare delivery to chronic pain sufferers.”

Exsurgo CEO Richard Little said the positive UK trial results were the next important step in the company’s ongoing five-year journey to develop, validate and then commercialise its neuroscience technologies. “As we’d hoped, this trial shows us that we have a solution that can change lives and makes EEG neurofeedback therapy much more affordable and accessible.”

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