Scientists develop new device to treat pain without using drugs

Credit: Northwestern University

Scientists from Northwestern University have developed a small, soft, flexible implant that relieves pain on demand and without the use of drugs.

The first-of-its-kind device could provide a much-needed alternative to opioids and other highly addictive medications.

The research is published in the journal Science and was conducted by John A. Rogers et al.

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 researchers believe the device has the potential to 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.

The team says although opioids are extremely effective, they also are extremely addictive.

The technology reported here exploits mechanisms that have some similarities to those that cause your fingers to feel numb when cold.

The implant allows that effect to be produced in a programmable way, directly and locally to targeted nerves, even those deep within surrounding soft tissues.

Although the new device might sound like science fiction, it leverages a simple, common concept that everyone knows: evaporation.

Similar to how evaporating sweat cools the body, the device contains a liquid coolant that is induced to evaporate at the specific location of a sensory nerve.

The team says as you cool down a nerve, the signals that travel through the nerve become slower and slower—eventually stopping completely.

They are specifically targeting peripheral nerves, which connect your brain and your spinal cord to the rest of your body. These are the nerves that communicate sensory stimuli, including pain.

By delivering a cooling effect to just one or two targeted nerves, they can effectively modulate pain signals in one specific region of the body.

All components of the device are biocompatible and naturally absorb into the body’s biofluids over the course of days or weeks, without needing surgical extraction.

The bioresorbable devices are completely harmless—similar to absorbable stitches.

If you care about pain, please read studies about what you need to know about chest pain, and native American plant med that could treat pain and diarrhea.

For more information about health, please see recent studies about over-the-counter pain relievers that could harm your blood pressure, and results showing this diet may reduce neuropathy pain in diabetes.

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