Implantable Device Could Block Pain
Can an implantable device actually block pain signals from reaching the brain?
Scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the University of Illinois say they have found a way to turn neurons on and off with light through flexible, wireless devices implanted under the skin of mice. Previously, researchers had been able to use light to activate nerve cells, but the mice had to be attached to wires. Being able to use wireless devices that don't need batteries is seen as a big step forward.
The scientists worked with mice that had been genetically engineered to have light sensitive proteins on specific nerve cells. As the mice walked through a particular area of a maze, the researchers triggered a pain response using only light. When the mice left that area, the devices were switched off and the pain stopped.
While the study showed that the wireless devices were able to deliver pain to the mice, the scientists said the same technology could be used to block pain signals and keep them from reaching the brain.
The researchers believe the devices could one day be used in different areas of the body to block pain not treatable with other therapies. Because the implants are small and flexible, they could be used in various organs, such as the heart or stomach.