Today’s Solutions: January 17, 2022

Nothing stops you from having a productive day like a head-splitting migraine—but luckily, researchers at New York University (NYU) are working on a brain implant that will stop a migraine in its tracks before you even feel it.

The implant has only been tested on rats, but the results are promising even in these early experimental stages.

The researchers have managed to utilize the implant to use the signal to anticipate pain and then use another system to subdue it.

How it works

In order for the implant to anticipate pain, the team had to embed electrodes in the region of the brain that processes pain signals, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). To shut down the pain before it starts, the team installed an optical fiber cable in the prelimbic prefrontal cortex (PFC) region.

Other studies demonstrate how activating neurons in the PFC region abates pain signals in rats and in primates. So, if the ACC were to receive pain signals, the implant directs the optical fiber to activate and shines a light on the neurons of the PFC region, activating them. That way, the pain is detected and immediately taken care of.

To test if the implant worked, researchers exposed rats to acute mechanical pain that should result in an instantaneous, knee-jerk response (like a pinprick to their paws). The team found that, with the implant on, the rats reacted 40 percent slower. The rats were also given the option of two chambers. In one, the implant worked only in response to pain stimulus, and in the other, the implant would just turn on randomly. The rats chose to hang out in the first chamber, which suggests that the implant was working.

The researchers hope that their work can open a door for alternative methods of pain management that don’t require long-term use of highly addictive opioids for pain relief.

Source study: Nature Biomedical Engineering—A prototype closed-loop brain-machine interface for the study and treatment of pain

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