Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the University of Illinois have joined forces to investigate the use of wireless technology for activating and blocking pain signals in both the body and spinal cord. Using previous research as the basis for their study, they have been able to develop implantable devices that can activate the pain signals that are sent to the brain. They hope that these devices will eventually have the potential to be used to fight pain that doesn’t respond to traditional therapies.
The devices can be implanted in all areas of the body
The study was published earlier this month in the journal Nature Biotechnology, and revealed how researchers have been able to implant the devices into several areas of the body, due to the fact that the implants are soft and have the ability to stretch. While previous devices have had to be anchored to the bone, sutures are enough to hold these new devices in place. The implants contain micro LED lights, which can be used to activate specific nerve cells and so, in theory, could be used to block pain signals too.
Mice studies showed that the implants could activate pain signals
The researchers used mice that had been genetically engineered to have light-sensitive proteins on a number of nerve cells. To show that the pain pathways in the nerve cells could be influenced by the implants, the mice were sent through a maze. In certain areas of the maze the implanted devices lit up thus causing discomfort to the mice. Once the mice left that particular area, the devices were turned off, giving relief to the mice. Not surprisingly, the mice learned to avoid those areas of the maze very quickly.
Further studies are needed
As these devices are flexible, they have the potential to be used in all areas in the body, including the heart, stomach, bladder or any other organ, and offer unique platforms to enable light to be delivered wirelessly to almost any part of the body. Furthermore, the implants have been specifically designed so that they can be easily manufactured in large amounts. This means that other researchers can use them to carry out additional research into their uses.
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