Tufts Medical Center Physician-Researchers Receive Award for Developing New Implant Device

Many brain surgeries like the procedure to treat communicating hydrocephalus (CH)—fluid in the brain—haven’t changed for the past 50 years. CH is one of the most common neurological conditions worldwide and affects over 1 million people, both children and adults, in the United States alone. Excess fluid in the brain increases intracranial pressure and can cause significant symptoms from headache to neurological dysfunction, coma and loss of life. 

The highly invasive current procedure to treat CH requires doctors to shave a patient’s head and drill a hole in the skull. In addition to the human cost – recovery takes, on average, 1 to 2 days in the hospital followed by up to a week of rest at home – the average cost of the current procedure in the U.S. is $35,000, and it carries with it a high cost of failure. With nearly 40% failing after two years, it is estimated that approximately half of the surgeries performed in the United States and Western Europe are revision procedures due to failure of the device currently used for treatment.

Today, physician-researchers at Tufts Medical Center are revolutionizing this procedure through the development of a groundbreaking device. The eShunt™ System, co-invented by Carl Heilman, MD, Neurosurgeon-in-Chief and Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at Tufts Medical Center, and Adel Malek, MD, Director of the Cerebrovascular and Endovascular Surgery Division, is the first minimally invasive treatment for CH.

The eShunt™ device is a tiny implant that travels from the groin to the brain and uses a valve to safely drain fluid into the veins. There is no need to drill into a patient’s skull or near their brain as the device is put in under the skin, and placed in a location which allows it to mimic the body’s normal methods of draining excess fluid. The first procedure occurred in 2021 as part of a successful clinical trial that concluded earlier this year. Dr. Heilman and Dr. Malek were celebrated in November 2022 with the Innovation Award, presented to them at the annual meeting of the Society of Vascular and Interventional Neurology for their work with this eShunt™ device.  

“Drs. Malek and Heilman have developed a disruptive innovation in the eShunt® System that has the potential to meaningfully transform the way that patients with communicating hydrocephalus are treated,” said Ameer Hassan, D.O., FAHA, FSVIN, President of SVIN. “SVIN and the neuroendovascular community will benefit greatly from the work they are doing,” he continued.

The two physician researchers are hopeful that once in general use, this minimally invasive approach will bring the potential to dramatically reduce infection risk and support an outpatient, day-surgery alternative to traditional neurosurgery. Their work recently took another exciting step forward as they received Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for clinical trials in the United States. The trials will accept patients suffering from both CH and normal pressure hydrocephalus, which is a similar buildup of excess fluid related to blockages within the brain or spinal cord. 

Learn more about how this invention by Tufts Medical Center physician-researchers has the potential to transform the treatment of a challenging neurological condition, and save and improve the lives of people around the globe.

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