In response to the ongoing opioid epidemic, medical researchers are developing viable alternatives to pain management. While opioids have proven effective at managing pain, they come with a dangerous risk of addiction. Doctors and researchers are seeking medical alternatives to reducing pain, without medication if possible.
A team from Northwestern University, PA has developed an implant that blocks pain signals by cooling the nerves.
After procedures such as amputations, nerve grafts, or spinal decompression surgeries this implant could be inserted into a relevant site on the body to treat a patient’s acute pain.
“We are optimistic that this represents a very promising starting point for an engineering approach to treating pain,” said Prof John Rogers of Northwestern University in Illinois, US, a co-author of the research.
The device is still in development and could take some time to apply to most patients, but it does show promise. It consists of a pump, an external control system, and an implant made of pliable, rubbery polymer. The implant is wrapped around the relevant nerve and has a liquid coolant and dry nitrogen flow through it. The liquid evaporates and lowers the temperature around the nerve, reducing the pain.
“The net effect when cooling is applied to a nerve is in blocking of electrical signals,” said Rogers, noting similarities to the numbing sensation in fingertips that can occur in cold weather.
One of the best parts of this implant, besides its effectiveness, is that it is not addictive. Also, it is made from biodegradable and water-soluble materials, meaning that it breaks down in the body after use and only requires one procedure to be implanted.
So far, the device has been tested on lab rats and will still need to go through more trials before reaching humans.
Source Study: Science — Soft, bioresorbable coolers for reversible conduction block of peripheral nerves (science.org)