Northwestern University researchers have developed a one-of-a-kind implant: small, soft, collapsible, water-soluble, relieves pain on command without the use of drugs or invasive surgery. It could provide a very valuable alternative to opioids and other harmful drugs.
And not only that: according to the researchers, the device could be very useful for patients undergoing routine surgery or amputations that require post-operative pain management drugs. By implanting the device already during surgery, surgeons could also better manage the patient's post-operative discomfort
The study was published in today's issue of the journal Science. And I link it here.
The pain evaporates
"Opioids are extremely effective for pain relief, but they are also highly addictive," he says John A. Rogers of Northwestern University, who led the development of the device, in a press release.
As engineers, we are inspired by the idea of pain relief without drugs, in ways that can be turned on and off instantly, and with user control over the intensity of the relief. This device has been shown to work in animals directly and locally on precise nerves. Even the deeper ones found in soft tissues.John A. Rogers
The plant uses a simple concept: evaporation. It contains a coolant which is forced to evaporate at the specific location of a sensory nerve.
In summary, it gently envelops peripheral nerves to deliver targeted cooling that prevents pain signals from reaching the brain. As the nerves cool, the signals passing through them become slower, eventually coming to a complete stop. An external pump allows you to operate the device remotely and adjust its intensity. With the thickness of a sheet of paper, it seems ideal for treating even very sensitive nerves.
An intelligent approach
The "soluble" implant contains two cooling microchannels: one contains a liquid (already clinically approved), perfluoropentane. The other contains dry nitrogen. When the liquid and gas flow into a shared chamber, a reaction occurs which causes the liquid to evaporate immediately. Additionally, a tiny built-in sensor monitors the nerve's temperature to ensure it doesn't get too cold, which could damage tissue.
With this precise control, the flow can be automatically adjusted to set a point that stops pain safely and reversibly. And the team's work now aims to find the perfect "dosages" that stop the signals but not the nerves: to eliminate (for example) the pain from one hand, but keep moving the hand.
It fights evil and then goes away
The most important feature of this device (which I find really interesting and promising) is the fact that it is biodegradable.
An achievement that Rogers' laboratory has been working on for 10 years, with two concepts developed in 2012 and 2018. All the products of their work are naturally absorbed into the body: they must not be removed surgically.
A very important, decisive step forward, which I am sure will make the fortune of this development when it becomes mass.