ST. LOUIS, Nov. 9 (UPI) -- Researchers used small, flexible implants in mice to activate pain signals in the body and spinal cord, leading them to believe they may also be able to use them to block pain in cases where the body does not respond to other treatments.
The devices use microLED lights to activate nerve cells and, because of their size and pliability, it is though they may have uses in or near the bladder, stomach, heart and other organs.
"Our eventual goal is to use this technology to treat pain in very specific locations by providing a kind of 'switch' to turn off the pain signals long before they reach the brain," said Dr. Robert Gereau, director of the Washington University Pain Center, in a press release.
The researchers worked with mice genetically engineered to have light-sensitive proteins on some of their nerve cells, with the intention of activating pain in nerve cells using light. When mice walked through a maze, certain areas caused the devices to light up and cause pain to the mice. The devices would turn off when the mice walked away from that area.
Previous versions of the device had to be anchored to bone, however the version tested in the new study can be anchored using sutures, allowing it to be placed a much wider number of places in the body.
Gereau, who has launched a company with other researchers to bring the implants to develop the implants for commercial use, said flexible implants that don't need to be anchored are necessary when not working in parts of the body close to bone.
"They provide unique, biocompatible platforms for wireless delivery of light to virtually any targeted organ in the body," he said.
The study is published in Nature Biotechnology.