A team of researchers has developed a small, soft, flexible implant that relieves pain on demand and without the use of drugs. The first-of-its-kind device could provide a much-needed alternative to opioids and other highly addictive medications.
The biocompatible, water-soluble device works by softly wrapping around nerves to deliver precise, targeted cooling, which numbs nerves and blocks pain signals to the brain. An external pump enables the user to remotely activate the device and then increase or decrease its intensity. After the device is no longer needed, it naturally absorbs into the body — bypassing the need for surgical extraction.
The device leverages evaporation. Similar to how evaporating sweat cools the body, the device contains a liquid coolant that is induced to evaporate at the specific location of a sensory nerve. To induce the cooling effect, the device contains tiny microfluidic channels. One channel contains the liquid coolant (perfluoropentane), which is already clinically approved as an ultrasound contrast agent and for pressurized inhalers. A second channel contains dry nitrogen, an inert gas. When the liquid and gas flow into a shared chamber, a reaction occurs that causes the liquid to promptly evaporate. Simultaneously, a tiny integrated sensor monitors the temperature of the nerve to ensure that it’s not getting too cold, which could cause tissue damage.
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