While they may not be quite as well-known as migraines, cluster headaches are even more painful, and can occur several times a day. There's presently no cure, although a new "neurostimulator" is claimed to help control them. A US clinical trial of the device has just begun, with a test subject recently having had one implanted beneath his cheekbone.

Developed by San Francisco-based Autonomic Technologies Inc (ATI), the "almond-sized" device was inserted through a 2-cm (0.8-in) incision in the recipient's gum, at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Anchored to the skull under the cheekbone, on the side of the face affected by the headaches, the implant works by stimulating the sphenopalatine ganglion (SPG). This is a nerve bundle located behind the nose, and it's associated with the transmission of the headache pain. Past approaches have included permanently cutting or chemically burning the SPG.

When a patient feels a cluster headache coming on, they place a separate handheld controller against their cheek. It wirelessly activates the neurostimulator, which in turn blocks the pain signals sent via the SPG. The controller is preprogrammed by the patient's physician, to provide a length and level of stimulation that's appropriate to their particular condition.

While the handheld unit has a rechargeable battery, the implant itself requires no battery of any type. This means that it never has to be accessed or removed, and should be unnoticeable to the patient.

Although the ATI Neurostimulator System has already been tested in Europe and is available in some markets there, this marks its first use in the US. Plans call for a total of 120 test subjects to receive the device, as part of a multi-center trial that will continue over the course of several years.

More information is available in the following video.

Sources: The Ohio State University, Autonomic Technologies Inc.