The electrode array is small, noninvasive and can be worn for up to a day. (Credit: UCSD)

Researchers have developed a device to noninvasively measure cervical nerve activity in humans. The new tool could potentially inform and improve treatments for patients with sepsis, a life-threatening response to infection, and mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The new device features a flexible array of electrodes that stretch from the lower front to the upper back of the neck, allowing researchers to capture electrical activity across different nerves. An integrated user interface enables real-time visualization of data, and a custom algorithm groups persons according to their nervous systems’ response to stress.

The researchers ran a series of tests that asked study participants to place and hold their hand in ice water, followed by a timed breathing exercise. The array recorded cervical nerve signaling or cervical electroneurography, including heart rate in subjects before and after both the ice water challenge and during the breathing exercise. The electrode array could not identify the precise nerves firing in response to the stress and pain of the cold-water challenge.

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