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This Implant May Block Pain Signals: Time To Delete 'Ouch' From Your Vocabulary

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Is it time to say goodbye to chronic pain? Inventors have developed a wireless implantable device that can impede pain signals.

Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, in collaboration with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, developed a flexible and implantable device to hinder pain signals from reaching the brain.

Published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, the study aims to find possible treatment options for chronic pain. The researchers said that the device could be implanted in many parts of the body that do not respond to previous pain therapies.

Dubbed as a "switch" for pain, the device uses micro-LED lights that activate nerves to block pain signals in the spinal cord and other parts of the body before reaching the brain for processing and interpretation. The devices were designed to be soft and flexible in order to be implanted in a specific body part that does not respond to standard therapies.

In the past, they developed devices that need to be attached or anchored to bones.

"But when we're studying neurons in the spinal cord or in other areas outside of the central nervous system, we need stretchable implants that don't require anchoring," Dr. Robert W. Gereau IV, co-author of the study and director of the Washington University Pain Center, said in press release. 

An experiment to test pain signal blocking was done on laboratory mice which were genetically modified to contain proteins that are sensitive to light on some nerve cells. The mice were placed in a maze and upon reaching a certain area, the devices would light up and inflict pain upon them. If a mouse walks away from that area, the light would turn off and block pain signals.

"They provide unique, biocompatible platforms for wireless delivery of light to virtually any targeted organ in the body," said Dr. John A. Rogers, professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois.

Other optogenetic devices have cords attached to them that would make it difficult for the mice to move around the maze. This wireless device is more effective in delivering effects of pain signal blockage on specific parts of the body.

Rogers and Gereau worked with Dr. Michael Bruchas, associate professor of anesthesiology at Washington University, with the common aim of manufacturing many devices that can be made available to other researchers. In fact, they established the company NeuroLux to help them reach their goal.

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