Implants could replace pills in fighting pain
We're moving closer to the day when painkillers are replaced by implants that send medications directly to the nerves causing the pain. Researchers in Sweden say they have developed an implant that's able to treat nerve pain in rats. The implant is a small tube made of polymers with a reservoir for medication; whenever a current is turned on, the device releases a drug onto a nearby nerve.
The researchers tested the device on rats with damage to their sciatic nerve on one side of the body. The polymer tube released a compound called GABA, which is a neurotransmitter that suppresses nerve function. The researchers then gauged the rats' sensitivity to pain by pressing down on their paws. They found that when the implant was turned on, the rats flinched less in response to this pressure on their paws than did the control rats that didn't have the implant, or rats with the device turned off.
The goal of making the new implant was to create a permanent solution to nerve pain because high doses of oral painkillers can cause dangerous side effects. Despite the positive results, much more research needs to be done before implants like these could be used by humans. The researchers will first have to show that the device can stay in the body for longer periods than the current study — months rather than weeks. The inventors would also have to demonstrate that it is safe for humans to use and that the drugs can't leak out where they aren't wanted.