Electronic implant can cancel pain sensation

Signal of change / Electronic implant can cancel pain sensation

By Laura Picot / 29 May 2015

Researchers from Linköping University and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have invented a bioelectronics device that delivers therapeutic drugs to the nervous system in rats with unprecedented precision.

The electronic drug delivery device is implanted onto the rat’s spinal cord where it carries out highly localised and controlled drug delivery, biosensing (to monitor the impact) and neural stimulation. Using the device, neurotransmitter drug molecules were pumped to specific malfunctioning neural junctions on the spinal cord via gel electrophoresis. At the target, the drug inhibits the central nervous system and thus can reduce pain sensation. The bioelectronics implant means that the drug dosage is low and extremely precise and therefore there were no observable side effects, according to the study. Accuracy can be controlled down to the number of molecules of drug administered and drug diffusion ceases as soon as the device’s electric voltage is turned off.

“To the best or our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of drug delivery with a bioelectronic device in such a selective way,” says Daniel T. Simon, an assistant professor at Linköping University in Sweden, and a researcher on the project. “There has been electrophoretic delivery of drugs done. But there hasn’t been this type of precision and local delivery.”

Image Caption: Managing our nerves

Image Credit: Charis Tsevis for Harrison & Star / Flickr

So what?

The study, published in Science Advances, claims that the results of the device tests illustrate “a viable alternative to existing pain treatments, paving the way for future implantable bioelectronic therapeutics”. Pain medications are typically administered systemically, where they spread throughout the body, affecting signals in the nervous system that do not require treatment.

The researchers hope that by delivering lower doses of pain medication in a more targeted way than traditional techniques, side effects for treating neuropathic pain can be avoided. The device is in its early stages of development and has not yet been investigated in humans. However, it could pave the way for highly effective pain treatment in the future, allowing patients to live without drug side effects.

What does the ability to suppress pain mean for human ability? What limits might be surpassed? What difference will it make to our experience of old age? 

Sources

Science Advances (2015, May 08) Therapy using implanted organic bioelectronics

Spectrum (2015, May 08) Organic electronics deliver pain-cancelling molecules

What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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