Shocking wearable could quell your chronic pain


Quell is designed to alleviate chronic pain. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Quell is designed to alleviate chronic pain. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

LAS VEGAS — Not every wearable launched this year will get slapped on your wrist.

Cult_of_Mac_CES_2015Quell, a new electrical-stimulation device designed to help alleviate chronic pain, gets wrapped around the wearer’s calf.

“I like to say it’s like a USB port into your central nervous system,” said Frank McGillin, SVP and general manger of Quell.

While a wave of fitness trackers and the upcoming Apple Watch are drumming up a healthy buzz about wearables, more and more medical devices work with smartphone apps and tap into Apple’s HealthKit platform. Quell doesn’t yet work with HealthKit, but McGillin told Cult of Mac that’s certainly in the cards.

Quell works through neurostimulation, delivering precisely controlled, low-level electrical stimulation to patients suffering from chronic pain due to diabetic neuropathy, sciatica, fibromyalgia and other ailments. The electrical signal travels up the central nervous system to the brain, releasing opioids that tame pain, McGillin said.

To use the device, the patient simply wraps the Quell, which consists of a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, a disposable electrode and a fabric holder, around their lower leg. (The sticky electrode will last for about two weeks, McGillin said, and the battery will last for about 40 hours of therapy.)

Quell is “smart,” so the device — which can deliver up to 100 milliamps of voltage — adjusts itself to deliver the most therapeutic level of electrical impulse during a treatment session.

“It’s very simple,” McGillin said, “although very complex.”

Since people’s tolerance for electrical stimulation varies, Quell quickly adapts to the individual. The first time it’s used, the patient runs the device through a quick and easy calibration process that takes a couple of minutes. After that, Quell works automatically, increasing and decreasing the amount of electrical stimulation depending on how long a therapy session has gone on or whether the patient is sleeping.

Quell also works with an iOS app that tracks sleep quality, which McGillin said is a practical indicator of how well the pain relief is working.

“We think the information would be useful to the patient’s doctor,” he said.

Quell has been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration, McGillin said, and will cost $249 over the counter when it goes on sale this spring.


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