Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have built implantable wireless devices that trigger — and may block — pain signals​ in the body before they reach the brain. The implants may one day be used in different parts of the body to fight pain that does not respond to other therapies.

Implanted microLED devices light up, activating peripheral nerve cells in mice.
(Image Credit: Gereau Lab/Washington University)

The soft, stretchable devices can be placed into parts of the body that move; previous implants had to be anchored to bone.​​​​​​​​​​​​ The wireless technologies are held in place with sutures. Like the previous models, they contain microLED lights that can activate specific nerve cells.

Because the new, smaller, devices are flexible and can be held in place with sutures, they also may have potential uses in or around the bladder, stomach, intestines, heart, or other organs.

To demonstrate that the implants could influence the pain pathway in nerve cells, the researchers performed successful experiments with mice.