New Implantable, Wireless Device May Block Pain Signals with Light

First Posted: Nov 10, 2015 08:08 AM EST

A new implantable, wireless device may be able to block pain signals in the body and the spinal cord before the signals reach the brain. The new device could be huge when it comes to battling chronic pain.

"Our eventual goal is to use this technology to treat pain in very specific locations by providing a kind of 'switch' to turn off the pain signals long before they reach the brain," said Robert W. Gereau, co-senior investigator, in a news release.

The devices themselves are soft and stretchable. This means that they can be implanted in parts of the body that move. Devices that were previously developed actually had to be anchored to bone. This new creation, though, could be revolutionary for pain management.

The devices are instead held in place like sutures and contain microLED lights that can activate specific nerve cells. In this case, the researchers want to use the implants to blunt pain signals in patients who have pain that cannot be managed with standard therapies.

Because the new, smaller devices are flexible, they may have potential uses in or around the bladder, stomach, intestines, heart or other organs. Essentially, they can target any organ in the body.

Currently, the researchers are looking toward manufacturing processes that would allow for the mass production of the devices so that they can be available to researchers.

The findings could be huge for pain management in the future. In theory, those with chronic pain would receive a simple implant in the region that's paining them and then would be able to "turn off" the pain without the need for medicines or chemicals.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

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