A Dissolvable Pain Implant That Relives Pain When Needed Without Having To Resort To Potent Drugs

New York Post

When it comes to aches and pains, people have come up with new solutions. But what’s the best one out there? Right now, a new study found a small, soft, and flexible implant that has the ability to relieve pain whenever and wherever, and the best part is that there are no drugs needed here. With the help of an innovative device, people now have a better alternative to opioids and highly addictive medications. This may be the best one yet.

The device is biocompatible and water-soluble. It works by wrapping it gently around nerves. It has the ability to bring precise, targeted cooling, which, in turn, numbs nerves and blocks the pain signals that are often times delivered to the brain. It comes with a pump that’s found externally as it enables you to activate it then increase or decrease its intensity with the use of a remote. Once you’re done using it, the body simply absorbs it. This, there is no need for a surgical extraction.

The Northwestern University-led team of researchers have seen the device and say that this will be extremely important for patients who have undergone routine surgeries or perhaps even amputations. That’s because they’re the ones that need post-operative medications the most. If this pushes through, their surgeons would be able to plant the device in the specific area during the procedure. This will immensely help them manage the pain afterwards.

“Although opioids are extremely effective, they also are extremely addictive,” said John A. Rogers. He led the device’s Northwestern development. “As engineers, we are motivated by the idea of treating pain without drugs — in ways that can be turned on and off instantly, with user control over the intensity of relief.”

The technology makes use of mechanisms that are somewhat similar to those that cause the fingers to feel numb when exposed to the cold. This is when the implant allows the effect by just programming it. It can directly and locally target the nerves, even the ones found in the surrounding soft tissues.

The Way It Works

This may sound like it came out of a science fiction move, but it’s on the verge of reality. The device brings out a simple, common idea that people have come to know well: evaporation. This is much similar to the way the body evaporates sweat and allows it to cool the area. It comes with a liquid coolant that can be induced to evaporate. Then, it targets the location of a sensory nerve.

“As you cool down a nerve, the signals that travel through the nerve become slower and slower — eventually stopping completely,” said study coauthor Dr. Matthew MacEwan of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “We are specifically targeting peripheral nerves, which connect your brain and your spinal cord to the rest of your body. These are the nerves that communicate sensory stimuli, including pain. By delivering a cooling effect to just one or two targeted nerves, we can effectively modulate pain signals in one specific region of the body.”

So that the cooling effect is induced, the device is built with tiny microfluidic channels. One channel comes with a liquid coolant (called the perfluoropentane). This already comes with a clinical approval as it contains an ultrasound contrast agent and it has also been used for pressurized inhalers. The second comes with a dry nitrogen, which is an inert gas. When the liquid and the gas flow towards one chamber, a reaction happens. The liquid immediately evaporates. At the same time, a tiny integrated sensor has been placed. This is able to monitor the temperature of the nerve to make sure it gives just the right amount of cold temperature. That’s because too much of it may damage the tissue.

“Excessive cooling can damage the nerve and the fragile tissues around it,” Rogers explained. “The duration and temperature of the cooling must therefore be controlled precisely. By monitoring the temperature at the nerve, the flow rates can be adjusted automatically to set a point that blocks pain in a reversible, safe manner.”

The Power of Its Precision

There are several other cooling therapies and nerve blockers that have been tested in experiments. These had limitations that the new device was able to answer and solve. Previously researchers have looked into cryotherapies. These needed to be injected into the body, but rather than targeting specific nerves, these were considered less precise. They cooled bigger tissue areas, which may possibly bring about unwanted effects like tissue damage and inflammation.

At its widest point, this new device is just 5 millimeters in width. One end has been designed with a cuff so that it is able to gently wrap itself around a single nerve. This means that there will be no need for stitches. Because it targets just the affected nerve, the device protects the areas around it from cooling. This means that you’re able to avoid unwanted side effects.

“You don’t want to inadvertently cool other nerves or the tissues that are unrelated to the nerve transmitting the painful stimuli,” MacEwan said. “We want to block the pain signals, not the nerves that control motor function and enables you to use your hand, for example.”

The researchers from previous studies have also looked into nerve blockers that make use of electrical stimulation to calm the pain. However, much like its predecessors, it also had its own set of limitations. “You can’t shut down a nerve with electrical stimulation without activating it first,” MacEwan shared. “That can cause additional pain or muscle contractions and is not ideal, from a patient’s perspective.”

The Pain Disappears

The new device is the third example of something bioresorbable. These came from the Rogers lab. The first device was a biodegradable implant that hastens nerve regeneration and the second one was a transient pacemaker.

Every component built into the device is biocompatible. The body’s biofluids can natural absorb it in just days or weeks. There’s no need for surgery or suture. Plus, these are completely safe, very much like the absorbable stitches surgeons have used. As for the device, it’s as thick as a sheet of paper. It’s also soft and elastic. This means that this is ideally perfect for nerve cooling and for treating areas that are considered to be highly sensitive.

“If you think about soft tissues, fragile nerves and a body that’s in constant motion, any interfacing device must have the ability to flex, bend, twist and stretch easily and naturally,” Rogers elaborated. “Furthermore, you would like the device to simply disappear after it is no longer needed, to avoid delicate and risky procedures for surgical removal.”

The study has recently been published in the online journal called Science. The paper elaborates on the design and it also shows just how effective it is with an animal model that was used during the research period.