Traditional methods of pain management, whilst effective, can prove extremely problematic when it comes to matters of addiction and potential overdose, especially when it comes to medication. These usual methods, mostly involving opioids due to their efficacy, are often accompanied by a host of unwelcome side effects including sedation, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, constipation, physical dependence and respiratory depression. However, in good news from Pusan National University, opioids may become a thing of the past, as scientists develop a cooling device to reduce neural pain.
A team of the University’s best, led by Professor Min-Ho Seo, sought to apply the effects of cold temperatures, and their numbing capabilities, on the nervous system. Prior evidence inclined that cooling peripheral nerves reduced the neural patterns that caused pain, which is why cold packs and immersion therapy are common staples of a recover protocol.
Buoyed by this knowledge, Professor Seo et al. then applied it in the context of internal neural pain management, creating a device that could potentially be implanted, emitting cold temperatures around peripheral nerves.
“Scientists already knew that low temperatures could numb the nerves in the body. But demonstrating this phenomenon with a small device at a clinical level was not an easy task,” said Professor Seo.
The results of their work, published in Science, is a soft, implantable device that can be inserted with minimal invasion and the capacity to focus on pain receptors.
Whilst the mechanics of the device are extremely delicate and technical – it’s conducted via a microfluids system involving a liquid coolant and a magnesium temperature receptor – trials on living rats with nerve injury proved successful. The rats had the device implanted on their sciatic nerves and a three-week trial found that a successful deliverance of cooling to the peripheral nerves had reduced their symptoms of pain.
Even sweeter, the device used on the rats was made of bioresorbable materials, meaning it could possibly naturally dissolve and absorb into the human body, removing the need for retrieval.
As the scientists develop the cooling device to reduce pain, the non-addictive and reversible nature of such a device are raising the bespectacled eyebrows of fellow researchers, possibly replacing the need for opioid usage in high-risk patients.
“The developed device can be used to treat pain after surgery. Since it is connected to an external source of fluid and power like a commercial intravenous (IV) device, it can easily be controlled by the patient. This way, our implantable device will be able to provide targeted and individualized relief without the drawbacks of the addictive pain medications,” said Professor Seo.