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Electromyography Needle

Electrical monitoring of muscle diseases, such as motor neurone disease, has not advanced much since the 1930s. But new technology is now available to license from Newcastle University that will improve the speed and quality of data from electrical muscle sampling.

It has been developed by Dr Roger Whittaker, a neurophysiologist and Clinical Senior Lecturer who sees patients with a variety of diseases that affect the peripheral nerves and muscles where electromyography (EMG) is often the only diagnostic test available.

Traditionally, this involves pushing a needle into the muscle to record the electrical activity that the muscle generates from a single sensor at the tip. Roger says: “If you’re trying to get a picture of what’s happening within a reasonable part of the muscle, you have to spend a lot of time in each position to record the electrical activity. It’s a very abstract signal that takes a lot of training to interpret.”

Using this method, the consultant has to move the needle into many different positions, which is uncomfortable for the patient who could end up with the needle in each muscle for 20 minutes, in an examination that might study up to a dozen muscles.

Roger’s team has developed a new needle with 64 sensors, increasing the amount of muscle sampled. When placed in the tissue, it can record several hundred muscle fibres in a minute. Fundamentally, it allows the sampling to be changed into an image which could be a breakthrough in diagnosis capability.

Mass producing these needles would make a big difference in the care and diagnosis of patients. There are only around 200 people in the country with the skills to use a traditional EMG needle and interpret its abstract data. They spend up to an hour and a half on each examination, which limits the availability and ease of repeated studies.

The new needle makes the procedure more accessible because a junior clinician or nurse practitioner can conduct the examination instead of the patient having to wait several weeks for an appointment with a consultant. Physiotherapists could also use it to see how rehabilitation is progressing, and sports scientists would be interested in it for top-class athletes as they go through training programmes.

The University has patented the electrode design and has tested the device with healthy volunteers and is preparing for a submission to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency to allow the department to do clinical studies. The electrodes are currently being built at Newcastle University, but electrode manufacture will eventually need to be upscaled.