California-based company Autonomic Technologies (ATI) has developed electronic aspirin and a patient-controlled remote that delivers low-level electrical stimulation to the sphenopalatine ganglion (SPG) nerve cluster.

The device is intended to relieve pain from headache disorders including cluster headaches, migraines, and tension headaches.

According to Global Burden of Disease Study (2013), worldwide headache disorders are the third-highest cause of years lost due to disability. Often people do not realise how headache disorders pose an unacknowledged burden, which includes battling through symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, and throbbing pain, as well as causing difficulties in family, social, and work life.

The main nerve involved in headache disorders is SPG, a collection of nerve cells that has connections to the brainstem and meninges. Inflammation around meninges activates pain receptors and releases pain-causing neurotransmitters.  There is currently no definitive cure for headache disorders.

The prevalent treatment options, such as oxygen therapy, local anaesthetics (lidocaine, xylocaine), analgesics (aspirin, ibrufopen), sumatriptans, octreotide, and dihydroergotamin aim to reduce the frequency and severity of attacks.

Electronic aspirin requires a minimally-invasive surgery to implant the ATI neurostimulator permanently in the upper gum, above the second molar. There, the lead tip is attached to the SPG bundle, which targets the root cause directly. The implant is placed on the side where the pain most frequently occurs. This device has an acceptable safety profile compared to other surgical procedures. In addition, patients can fully control the strength of electrical stimulations with a remote control, unlike oxygen therapy equipment where an oxygen tank and a regulator are needed. The electronic aspirin hand-held portable remote provides on-demand therapy making it easier to use.

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The device has no health-related restrictions and can be implanted into anyone with allergies, high blood pressure, or heart disease, whereas medications such as analgesics or sumatriptans have to be consumed carefully due to side effects such as increased blood pressure, allergies, and weight gain.

GammaCore could be a novel alternative to electronic aspirin. It is a non-surgical US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved device focused on vagus nerve stimulation (nVNS) and will be commercially available from Q3, 2017. This device is suitable for people who do not have any implants, allergies, and do not take certain medications.

According to an electronic aspirin clinical study by ATI, 68% of patients treated with the device experienced significant improvement. Of these, 65% had their headache disorder resolved within three months. These results are said to be applicable to a wide range of people.

Electronic aspirin is a reinvigorating technology still under clinical development and waiting for its FDA approval. It could potentially become a permanent solution for headache disorders.