Mary Ellis wrote “The field of optogenetics - which employs genetically encoded switches that turn neurons on or off with light - has taken a step forward; scientists have created flexible, implantable, wireless devices that can activate and potentially block pain signals in the body before they make it to the brain.” Some scientists have previously used light to activate nerve cells in animals had to attach the animals to wires. This would limit their movability but with this follow device they could be move around. New study published in the journal , researchers from Washington University of Medicine in St. Louis, MO, and the University of Illinois have built on wireless technology to create the flexible devices that can be implanted under the skin. This device didn’t need any batteries because they used radio waves to power it.
These researchers hoped their implants will one day be used in different areas of the body to block pain that is not treatable with other therapies. "Our eventual goal is to use this technology to treat pain in very specific locations by providing a kind of 'switch' to turn off the pain signals long before they reach the brain," says study author Prof. Robert W. Gereau IV, from the Washington University Pain Center. Gereau explained such devices had to be "anchored" to bone, whereas the new devices are held in place with sutures. The benefit of these new flexible devices - which contain microLED lights that activate specific nerve cells - is that they enable scientists to work with neurons in the spinal cord or other locations outside of the central nervous system. For their study, Prof. Gereau and colleagues experimented with genetically engineered mice with light-sensitive proteins on specific nerve cells. In order to establish that their implants could disrupt the pain pathway in nerve cells, the team triggered a pain response using light; as the mice walked through a certain area in a maze, the researchers activated the devices, causing discomfort for the mice. Then, when they left that area, the devices switched off, clearing the discomfort.
Although their study demonstrated that their devices are able to deliver pain to mice, they explain that the same technology could now be used to block these pain signals, providing hope for patients with currently untreatable pain.
I would love to see more research done on this. This could be used on people with neurological pain disorders like RSD or fibromyalgia. Having a wife with RSD I know how much pain she goes through after a long day of working. She uses different kinds of non-narcotic pain medicine to relieve her pain but she needs to have the medication increased every few years or recently used Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation, a technique where electrodes were implanted in her ear lobe that would lessen her pain for a couple years but it would only work on a small amount of people with RSD. If they could better develop the device to block pain and have the batteries that can be charge remotely as you sleep or be kinetic powered like some watches are today it could be a savior for others with chronic pain or could one day be used in hospitals to help patients recover from surgery.