Neurostimulation, the use of electric stimulation to control chronic pain, continues to gain steam in the U.S. and abroad. On Tuesday, St. Jude Medical announced that it has started a clinical study of its Prodigy neurostimulator, a spinal cord stimulation system that delivers something called burst stimulation. It is the first of its kind, St. Jude said.

The SUNBURST (Success Using Neuromodulation with BURST) study will evaluate whether burst stimulation can be more effective in managing chronic pain than traditional tonic stimulation that sends a continuous stream of electricity.

Spinal cord stimulation to manage pain has been around for more than 40 years. Implantable systems came into being as batteries became smaller and longer-lasting. The procedure involves implanting thin wires along the spinal cord. The wires are connected to a small pulse generator, similar to a pacemaker, that is usually implanted just beneath the skin. The generator delivers low levels of electrical energy to interrupt or mask the transmission of pain signals to the brain.

Patients with a traditional spinal cord stimulator feel the mild pulses of energy as a tingling sensation called paresthesia. St. Jude says that early research indicates that burst stimulation may be able to deliver therapy with little or no tingling and that it may be more effective than traditional stimulation treatment. It may even be more effective in managing complex back pain.

“Severe chronic pain has a debilitating effect on patients’ lives,” said Dr. Timothy Deer, an interventional pain physician, and president and chief executive officer of the Center for Pain Relief in Charleston, WV. “Burst stimulation may provide us with a comprehensive approach to managing patients whose pain is not adequately controlled with tonic spinal cord stimulation alone, or for those who lose therapeutic benefit over time. Importantly, we hope to demonstrate that burst stimulation produces paresthesia-free pain relief which may make it ideal for those who can’t tolerate traditional stimulation.”

The SUNBURST study will examine the safety and effectiveness of the Prodigy neurostimulation system that uses both traditional stimulation and burst stimulation therapy to manage patients with chronic intractable pain. A maximum of 442 patients will be enrolled at up to 50 sites in the U.S.

The Prodigy neurostimulator is not yet approved for use in the U.S.