A team of researchers led by Northwestern University has created an innovative, drug-free implant capable of providing on-demand pain relief. This unique device is small, soft, and flexible, offering an alternative solution to highly addictive medications like opioids. By gently wrapping around nerves, it delivers targeted cooling, effectively numbing the nerves and blocking pain signals to the brain.
The biocompatible and water-soluble nature of the implant eliminates the need for surgical extraction. Users can activate the device remotely using an external pump and adjust its intensity as required. This advancement holds promising potential for patients undergoing routine surgeries or amputations, offering a means of managing post-operative pain more effectively.
The device's functionality is based on the principle of evaporation, wherein a liquid coolant (perfluoropentane) within the implant evaporates at the location of a sensory nerve. As the nerve cools down, the signals it carries slow down and eventually stop, temporarily interrupting the transmission of sensory stimuli, including pain, to the brain and spinal cord.
The implant features microfluidic channels containing the liquid coolant and dry nitrogen, which react to induce rapid evaporation. To ensure safety and prevent tissue damage, a built-in sensor monitors the nerve's temperature during the process.
The design of the implant includes a cuff-shaped end that gently wraps around a single nerve, eliminating the need for sutures. This targeted approach avoids unnecessary cooling of surrounding regions and potential side effects.
All components of the implant are biocompatible and naturally dissolve in the body's biofluids over time, obviating the need for surgical removal. These bioresorbable materials are entirely harmless, akin to absorbable stitches.
The implant's soft and elastic characteristics, comparable to the thickness of a sheet of paper, make it especially suitable for treating highly sensitive nerves. This groundbreaking device represents a significant advancement in medical technology, offering the prospect of effective pain relief without resorting to drug-based treatments.