Thursday 10 December 2015

Implantable LEDs Could Block Pain Wirelessly


Micro-LED Device – Block Pain with Touch of a Button

At Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, researchers are making discovery by implanting tiny LEDs beneath the skin in order to display particular areas of the body which tend to hurt. The so-called micro-LEDs that seem to be flexible and compatible with the body of the person can be wirelessly activated to block pain with a touch of a button.

The tiny device is said to represent a development in the emerging field of optogenetics that involves connecting light to control cells. The invention seems to be a small flexible light emitting diode or LED which tends to respond to the neural activity of the brain. Researchers had used lab mice to show how the device could manipulate parts of the brain which recognizes the pain.

The procedure comprises of changing the DNA construct of neurons in the brain that enables them to respond to light. The study to develop circuits in the nervous system and the spinal cord came up when Robert Gereau, director of the Pain Centre at Washington University in St. Louis partnered with John Rogers, professor of materials sciences and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Soft/Flexible Device Implanted in Person’s Body

The researchers developed the soft, flexible device which could be implanted into a person’s body and theoretically blocks pain signals from the spinal cord or other parts of the body prior to the signals reaching the brain. Taking the pain into consideration could typically be something which tends to draw the attention to an area needing treatment by just turning it off and ignoring the problem may not be an appropriate solution.Hence this technology has been developed as a last resort system of pain relief while the other treatments have not been much successful.

According to Robert W. Gereau IV besides being a director of the Washington University Pain Centre, is also a Professor of Anesthesiology, states that their ultimate goal was to use this technology to treat pain and provide a switch to turn off the pain signals before they tend to reach the brain. The researchers had implanted the micro-LEDs in mice, whose nerve cells were hereditarily adapted to be sensitive to light.

Understand – Sensory Information Process in Spinal Cord

The indication was that on activating the light on these nerve cells it could trigger pain or block it. For research purpose, the medical LED devices were surgically implanted in mice to have light sensitive proteins on some of their nerve cells. In order to assess if this worked or not, the scientists directed the mice through a maze and when they walked through a selected area in the maze, the wireless device lit up and activated the pain pathways of their nerve cells, causing them some discomfort.

However, when the mouse left the area, the light cut off and instantly the mouse learned to avoid the painful part of the maze. The scientists now know that the micro-LED works and will continue to test ways of understanding better on how sensory information is processed in the spinal cord.

Ultimately they desiredto develop a device which could turn off pain totally in human beings. MIT Technology Review reports that researchers are hoping their findings will someday enable the doctors to control how a patient experiences pain and ease discomfort with the precise flip of a switch.

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