Summary: Researchers have developed a new implantable device capable of “cooling” nerves and providing on-demand relief to people suffering from neuropathic or chronic pain.
An implantable device designed to “cool” nerves can provide targeted, on-demand pain relief, researchers report. When tested on rats with neuropathic pain, the device produced very localized cooling.
“An implantable cooling device with on-demand local analgesia will be a game-changer for long-term pain management,” write Shan Jiang and Guosong Hong in a related perspective. It offers a promising path towards creating a class of analgesic devices for the long-term management of non-opioid pain.
Pain management is a pressing health concern for many, who often have to turn to effective but highly addictive and sometimes deadly opioid painkillers. This has made the development of localized, non-opioid and non-addictive alternatives very attractive.
One such approach is analgesic nerve cooling, which shows promise as an effective and reversible way to relieve pain, including after amputations, nerve grafts or spinal decompression surgeries, for example. Like putting ice on a sore joint or muscle, the targeted application of cold temperature directly to the nerves can block the conduction of pain signals, providing temporary relief.
However, conventional nerve cooling devices are bulky and rigid with non-specific cooling and high power requirements – qualities that preclude practical clinical use.
To solve this problem, Jonathan Reeder and his colleagues developed a soft, miniaturized and implantable nerve cooling system based on state-of-the-art microfluidic and flexible electronic technologies.
Borrowing from electric nerve cuffs, Reeder et al. using a liquid-to-gas phase transition in microfluidic channels in an elastic band that wraps around peripheral nerves to provide targeted cooling. A thin-film thermal sensor built into the device enables real-time temperature monitoring and control.
Since the device is made from water-soluble and biocompatible materials, it is bioabsorbable (meaning it degrades), reducing the risk of surgery being required.
To demonstrate the capability of the device, the authors performed live experiments in rat models of neuropathic pain, rapidly and precisely cooling peripheral nerves to provide local, on-demand pain relief.
“In addition to the demonstrated strengths of the miniaturized flexible cooling device for pain alleviation,” Jiang and Hong write in the related perspective, “the technology presents new opportunities for neuroscience research and neurological practice.”
About this neurotechnology and pain research news
Author: Press office
Contact: Press office – AAAS
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Original research: Access closed.
“Bioabsorbable Soft Coolers for Reversible Peripheral Nerve Conduction Block” by Jonathan T. Reeder et al. Science
Soft, bioresorbable coolers for reversible conduction block of peripheral nerves
Implantable devices capable of targeted and reversible blocking of peripheral nerve activity may provide alternatives to opioids for the treatment of pain. Local cooling represents an attractive means for on-demand removal of pain signals, but traditional technologies are limited by rigid and bulky form factors; imprecise cooling; and requirements for extraction surgeries.
Here, we introduce flexible, bioresorbable microfluidic devices that enable the delivery of focused, minimally invasive cooling power to arbitrary depths in living tissue with real-time temperature feedback control. Construction with water-soluble biocompatible materials leads to dissolution and bioresorption as a mechanism to eliminate unnecessary device burden and patient risk without additional surgeries.
Week-long in vivo trials demonstrate the ability to rapidly and precisely cool peripheral nerves to provide on-demand local analgesia in rat models for neuropathic pain.