One of the best natural ways to reduce pain is to apply ice to a recent injury. Ice, however, is clumsy, erratic, and eventually melts. What if, however, you could apply a shrink-wrapped, never-melting ice pack right to the pain-producing nerves? By creating a tiny, flexible implant that provides pain relief on demand, a team of researchers at Northwestern University hope to achieve this.
The apparatus was put to the test on rats, and the researchers then reported their findings in the journal Science. They anticipate that it will offer a substitute for opioids and other prescription painkillers in the future. These medications have the potential to cause major adverse effects, such as addiction.
The implant consists of a paper-thin, 5 mm broad strip of water soluble material with two parallel wave-shaped channels, one filled with a liquid coolant and the other with dry nitrogen. The liquid and gas are released by a pump on the outside and flow into a common pocket where a chemical reaction causes the liquid to evaporate, eventually producing a cold feeling that numbs the nerve. The pain signals that the neuron provides to the brain steadily diminish as the nerve gets colder, eventually ceasing to exist altogether.
Since the thin strip is intended to be wrapped around the pain-causing nerve, it provides precise, focused relief without affecting other tissue, including neurons regulating motor function. In other words, you benefit from the numbness you experience when using ice, but with greater precision targeting a specific nerve rather than the full area an ice pack may cover.
“Peripheral nerves, which link the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body, are the particular organs that we are concentrating on. These nerves transmit sensory information, including pain “In an essay at Northwestern, co-author and assistant professor of neurological surgery at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis Matthew MacEwan, PhD, provided more information. “We can successfully regulate pain signals in one particular location of the body by delivering a cooling effect to just one or two targeted nerves.”
The device has a tiny sensor that measures the nerve’s temperature and controls the flow rates of the liquid and gas to increase or reduce the cooling because too much cooling can harm the tissue surrounding the nerve. Additionally, once implanted, the device never needs to be taken out because, according to the researchers, all of the material may be organically absorbed into the body and degrades within a few days or weeks.