As the US braces for a deadly opioid crisis that has claimed nearly a million lives since 1999, researchers are working hard to find an alternative way to treat pain. This could bring relief to around 50 million US adults who suffer from chronic pain every day – without the risk of becoming a victim of addiction or overdose.
“Although opioids are extremely potent, they are also extremely addictive,” said John A. Rogers, professor of materials science and engineering at Northwestern University, in a press release. “As engineers, what motivates us is the idea of treating pain without drugs—in a way that can be turned on and off instantly, with the user being able to control the intensity of the relief.”
That’s why Rogers and his team developed a remote-controlled, flexible implant that uses cold instead of drugs to relieve pain. In an article published in the magazine on Friday Science, The Northwest researchers say their device is so tiny it can wrap around a single nerve. Once attached, an external hand pump allows the patient to remotely activate it, cooling the nerve and blocking any pain signals that might otherwise get through.
“The technology described here exploits mechanisms that share some similarities to those that cause your fingers to feel numb when it’s cold,” Rogers said. “Our implant makes it possible to generate this effect directly and locally on targeted nerves, even those deep in the surrounding soft tissues, in a programmable way.”
Of course, too much cooling can damage your nerves like a bad frostbite. For this reason, the device also contains a series of tiny sensors to monitor the temperature of the nerve and make sure it stays at a safe temperature. It is also made from biocompatible materials. This means that the patient’s body naturally absorbs the implant into its bio-fluids over the course of days – so no cumbersome outpatient surgery is required to remove it. This is especially important as nerves are incredibly sensitive. The less you mess with them, the better.
“When you think of soft tissue, fragile nerves, and a body that’s in constant motion, every interface device must have the ability to flex, bend, twist, and stretch easily and naturally,” Rogers explained. “Also, you want the device to just disappear when it’s no longer needed to avoid delicate and risky surgical removal procedures.”
So far, the device has only been tested on animal models. But if it goes through human trials, it could be a game changer for the millions of people suffering from chronic pain in the US. When that happens, hopefully we’ll see a lot of relief from the opioid epidemic as well.
https://www.thedailybeast.com/could-this-dissolvable-implant-for-pain-relief-end-the-opioid-epidemic?source=articles&via=rss Could this dissolvable pain relief implant end the opioid epidemic?