Scientists Develop Dissolvable Implantable Device That Can Relieve Pain Without Drugs

The first-of-its-kind device could provide a much-needed alternative to opioids and other highly addictive medications. 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 Northwestern University-led researchers believe the device will be most valuable for patients who undergo routine surgeries or even amputations that commonly require post-operative medications. Surgeons could implant the device during the procedure to help manage the patient's post-operative pain. 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), and 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. “Excessive cooling can damage the nerve and the fragile tissues around it,” said Northwestern's John A Rogers, who led the device's development. “The duration and temperature of the cooling must therefore be controlled precisely By monitoring the temperature at the nerve, the flow rates can be adjusted automatically to set a point that blocks pain in a reversible, safe manner.”

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