Sound Plus Electrical Stimulation to Treat Chronic Pain

A University of Minnesota (U OF M) Twin Cities-led team has found that electrical stimulation of the body combined with sound activates the brain’s somatosensory or “tactilecortex, increasing the potential for using the technique to treat chronic pain and other sensory disorders. The researchers tested the non-invasive technique on animals and are planning clinical trials on humans in the near future. During the study, published in the Journal of Neural Engineering, the researchers played broadband sound while electrically stimulating different parts of the body in guinea pigs. They found that the combination of the two activated neurons in the brain’s somatosensory cortex, which is responsible for touch and pain sensations throughout the body.

While the researchers used needle stimulation in their experiments, one could achieve similar results using electrical stimulation devices, such as nerve stimulation (TENS) units, which are widely available. The researchers hope that their findings will lead to a treatment for chronic pain that’s safer and more accessible than drug approaches.

Chronic pain is a huge issue for a lot of people, and for most, it’s not sufficiently treatable,” said Cory Gloeckner, lead author on the paper, a Ph.D. alumnus of the U of M Department of Biomedical Engineering and an assistant professor at John Carroll University.Right now, one of the ways that we try to treat pain is opioids, and we all know that doesn’t work out well for many people. This, on the other hand, is a non-invasive, simple application. It’s not some expensive medical device that you have to buy in order to treat your pain. It’s something that we think would be available to pretty much anyone because of its low cost and simplicity.”

The researchers plan to continue investigating this “multimodal” approach to treating different neurological conditions, potentially integrating music therapy in the future to see how they can further modify the somatosensory cortex.

Source: https://twin-cities.umn.edu/

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/

Paraplegics Walk Again With Electrical Stimulation

Three paraplegics who sustained cervical spinal cord injuries many years ago are now able to walk with the aid of crutches or a walker thanks to new rehabilitation protocols that combine targeted electrical stimulation of the lumbar spinal cord and weight-assisted therapy.

This latest study, called STIMO (STImulation Movement Overground), establishes a new therapeutic framework to improve recovery from spinal cord injury. All patients involved in the study recovered voluntary control of leg muscles that had been paralyzed for many years. Unlike the findings of two independent studies published recently in the United States on a similar concept, neurological function was shown to persist beyond training sessions even when the electrical stimulation was turned off.

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Our findings are based on a deep understanding of the underlying mechanisms which we gained through years of research on animal models. We were thus able to mimic in real time how the brain naturally activates the spinal cord,” says EPFL neuroscientist Grégoire Courtine.

All the patients could walk using body weight support within one week. I knew immediately that we were on the right path,” adds CHUV neurosurgeon Jocelyne Bloch, who surgically placed the implants in the patients.

The exact timing and location of the electrical stimulation are crucial to a patient’s ability to produce an intended movement. It is also this spatiotemporal coincidence that triggers the growth of new nerve connections,” says Courtine.

The STIMO study, led by the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV ) in Switzerland, is published in  Nature and Nature Neuroscience.

Source: https://actu.epfl.ch/