Wireless pain management for drug-resistant conditions
April 08, 2022

Using a 1-millimeter-size wireless implant to rejuvenate peripheral nerves from within the blood vessels has the power to treat neuropathic pain resistant to medical treatment.

However, according to a team of multidisciplinary researchers including Sunil A. Sheth, MD, of Health Houston.

Sheth, associate professor of neurology and director of the program of vascular neurology with McGovern Medical School at Health Houston, was the lead researcher for a study published today in Nature Biomedical Engineering.

Other co-investigators include University of Texas Medical Branch neurosurgeon Peter Tze Man Kan, MD, MPH; and Rice University chief engineer Jacob Robinson, PhD.

So, After receiving a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH grant No. U18EB029353

797 and R01DE021798) in 2019, all three come together to form artificial, wireless stimulants that can be used instead of opioids in pain management. Implants – about the size of a grain of rice – are small enough to be placed in stents and brought into the bloodstream near certain areas of the central nervous system.

“We’re getting more and more data showing that neuromodulation, or technology that acts directly upon nerves, is effective for a huge range of disorders – depression, migraine, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, dementia, etc. – but there’s a barrier to using these techniques because of the risks associated with doing surgery to implant the device, such as the risk of infection,”

Also, Sheth said. “If you can lower that bar and dramatically reduce those risks by using a wireless, endovascular method, there are a lot of people who could benefit from neuromodulation.”

Neuropathic pain can be a debilitating disorder that accounts for about 40% of victims of chronic pain, often leading to anxiety, depression, and opioid addiction. However, Previous research has shown that electrical stimulation is an effective treatment for reducing pain when doctors target the spinal cord and dorsal root ganglia (DRG), a number of nerve endings that carry information to the spine. However, existing DRG stimulants require invasive surgery to include a battery pack and a heart rate generator.

With this new type of technology, researchers say they have found a way to make unusual bioelectronic treatments that help with more accurate placement of implants and predictable results.

So, In the end, Sheth hopes he will seek regulated device approval from the FDA.

“We’re doing some longer-term studies to ensure this approach is safe and that the device can stay in the body for a long time without causing problems,” said Sheth, estimating the process will take a few years.

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