Scientists have revealed a desirable new design for an incredibly tiny, inflatable spinal-cord implant, suitable for treating severe chronic back pain that does not answer medication.
The inflatable device is a component of a spinal cord stimulator (SCS) setup, a kind of well-established therapy that delivers mild electric currents to an individual’s spinal-cord via implanted electrodes. That current is send by alittle , implanted pulse-generator device, and therefore the whole reduces pain because the electrical pulses help to mask pain signals traveling to the brain via spinal-cord .
If that each one sounds rather invasive, that’s because it’s . But this new device, designed by a team led by scientists from the University of Cambridge in UK, could help to change’ that – with less invasive surgery requirements.
“Spinal cord stimulation may be a treatment of [last resort] , for those whose pain has become so severe that it prevents them from completing everyday activities,” says University of Cambridge clinical neuroscientist Damiano Barone.
“An effective device that does not require invasive surgery could bring relief to numerous people.”
The trickiest aspect of currently available SCS devices is that the part where you’ve to stick-electrodes into an individual’s spinal-column , laying them across the dura, the fibrous outer layer that wraps round the nerve cells within.
While these electrode implants are tiny – just a couple of millimeters across – going to the vertebral column through our bony, protective vertebra is not any easy task. To implant the foremost effective devices currently available (shaped like tiny paddles), surgeons need to remove alittle piece of a vertebra and thread it through.
Alternatively, there are smaller devices available which may be inserted with an outsized needle, but these have proven to be less effective at actually managing pain, possibly because they have a tendency to regulate fewer electrodes over a smaller area.
The new inflatable device combines the simplest of both worlds. Ingeniously, it are often rolled up to a diameter of just 2 millimeters, allowing it to fir-inside a typical hollow needle only slightly thicker than those typically used for epidural anesthetic.
Once in situ , the device is then unrolled into the simpler paddle shape sort of a teeny tiny air-mattress’ up to 60 micrometers thick, with just alittle squirt of air or liquid.
This clever application is feasible because the research team combined two paradigms in their design – flexible electronics that leave a tool to vary its shape after implantation, and therefore the addition of microfluidic channels for inflating it.
“Thin-film electronics aren’t new, but incorporating fluid chambers is what makes our device unique – this enables it to be inflated into a paddle-type shape once it’s inside the patient,” explained engineer Christopher Proctor, also from the University of Cambridge.
The team tested their device in vitro, employing a model of a spinal-column to ascertain how the electrodes would perform in any case that rolling and inflating, and achieved excellent results. They then proceeded to validate the planning with implantation surgeries on human cadavers donated to science.
“The intention behind this was to validate the underlying mode of operation for the device and to check its mechanical capability,” the team wrote in their study.
Overall, the researchers believe that their design – already patented by the commercialization arm of the University of Cambridge – couldn’t only reduce the necessity for invasive surgery to deliver life-changing SCS therapy to people living with severe pain, but enhances the supply of such devices for future applications.
“We envisage a tool that would cover a way larger area while retaining alittle insertion footprint, offering a latest paradigm for central systema nervosum interfaces,” they wrote.
The study describing the new design was published in Science Advances.