Dissolving Implantable Device Relieves Pain Without Drugs

A Northwestern University-led team of investigators has developed a small, soft, flexible implant that relieves pain on demand and without the use of drugs. Described in a study published in Science, the first-of-its-kind device could provide a much-needed alternative to opioids and other highly addictive medications.

The biocompatible, water-soluble device works by softly wrapping around nerves to deliver precise, targeted cooling, which numbs nerves and blocks pain signals to the brain. An external pump enables the user to remotely activate the device and then increase or decrease its intensity. After the device is no longer needed, it naturally absorbs into the body bypassing the need for surgical extraction.

The scientists believe the device will be most valuable for patients who undergo routine surgeries or even amputations that commonly require post-operative medications. Surgeons could implant the device during the procedure to help manage the patient’s post-operative pain.

A Northwestern University-led team has developed a small, pain-relieving implant that could provide a much-needed alternative to opioids and other highly addictive medications.

Although opioids are extremely effective, they also are extremely addictive,” said John Rogers, PhD, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Biomedical Engineering and Neurological Surgery, who led the device’s development. Jonathan Reeder, former postdoctoral fellow in the Rogers laboratory, is the paper’s first author.

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,” said Rogers, who is also the founding director of the Querrey Simpson Institute for Bioelectronics.The technology reported here exploits the mechanism that causes your fingers to feel number when cold. Our implant allows that effect to be produced in a programmable way, directly and locally to targeted nerves, even those deep within surrounding soft tissues.

While other cooling therapies and nerve blockers have been tested experimentally, all have limitations that the new device overcomes. Previously, scientists have explored cryotherapies, for example, which are injected with a needle. Instead of targeting specific nerves, these imprecise approaches cool large areas of tissue, potentially leading to unwanted effects such as tissue damage and inflammation.

At its widest point, the tiny device is just five millimeters wide. One end is curled into a cuff that softly wraps around a single nerve, bypassing the need for sutures. By precisely targeting only the affected nerve, the device spares surrounding regions from unnecessary cooling, which could lead to 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 enable you to use your hand, for example.”

Source: https://news.feinberg.northwestern.edu/