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Implant may treat nerve pain resistant to drugs, researchers say

A small implant could be used to treat nerve pain that does not respond to drug treatment, researchers say. Photo by wangyanwei/<a href="https://pixabay.com/images/id-6762754/">Pixabay&nbsp</a>
A small implant could be used to treat nerve pain that does not respond to drug treatment, researchers say. Photo by wangyanwei/Pixabay 

March 31 (UPI) -- A new implantable device appears to reduce nerve pain that does not respond to drug treatment, a study published Thursday by the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering found.

However, the device has not yet entered clinical trials to confirm safety and effectiveness and is likely two to three years away from being available for use, the researchers said.

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The implant, which measures about 1 millimeter in diameter, or less than one-tenth of an inch, is designed to stimulate peripheral nerves from within blood vessels, the researchers said.

Developed with funding from the National Institutes of Health, the stimulator can be used instead of prescription opioid drugs for the treatment of nerve, or neuropathic, pain, according to the researchers.

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When the patient needs treatment, the implant delivers small electrical pulses to blood vessels adjacent to specific areas of the central and peripheral nervous system that produce pain signals, they said.

"Neuropathic pain can be debilitating, and the dependence on potentially addictive medications like opiates for pain control can be even more problematic," one of the researchers, Dr. Sunil A. Sheth, told UPI in an email.

"A means of treating pain with a minimally invasive device, which the patient can activate or de-active as needed, puts the control in their hands," said Sheth, an associate professor of neurology at UTHealth Houston.

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Neuropathic pain occurs when the nervous system is damaged or not working correctly, causing incorrect signals to be sent to pain centers in the body, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

About 30% of neuropathic pain cases are caused by diabetes, which can damage the nervous system, but cancer and cancer treatment can also lead to its development, the Cleveland Clinic says.

Previous research has indicated that electrical stimulation is an effective treatment for reducing pain when doctors target the spinal cord and dorsal root ganglia, a bundle of nerves that carry sensory information to the spinal cord.

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However, existing dorsal root ganglia stimulators require invasive surgery to implant a battery pack and pulse generator, Sheth said.

This new device can be implanted on a stent, in a minimally invasive procedure, and controlled by the patient, he said.

The researchers are in the process of refining the design for safe use in humans, which includes the development of "appropriate packaging to ensure that it is safe for long-term implantation," according to Sheth.

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