THE ultra-thin microelectrodes, developed by researchers fromLund University in Sweden, are a completely new method of stimulation, to combat intense pain. This new technology offers pain relief in a performing and personalized way, without the typical side effects of pain medications.
The study was published in the research journal Science Advances.
Ultra-thin microelectrodes and chronic pain: here’s what the study says
The lack of treatment without side effects for the long-term pain often significantly compromises the quality of life of affected patients. Without analgesic treatment, persistent pain makes the patient’s daily life difficult in work and private life. Traditional pain relief treatments certainly reduce pain, but at the same time affect the senses and mental function, and there is a considerable risk of developing drug addiction.
Pain also carries a considerable cost to society in the form of sick leave, healthcare costs, and loss of production. According to recent research, about eight percent of the American population suffers from long-term chronic pain.
In Lund, a research team led by the neurophysiology professor Jens Schouenborg has developed a method to combat pain through personalized stimulation using ultra-thin and tissue-friendly microelectrodes.
“The electrodes are very soft and extremely gentle on the brain. They are used to specifically activate the pain control centers of the brain without simultaneously activating the nerve cell circuits that produce side effects. The method involves implanting a group of ultra-thin electrodes and then selecting a subset of electrodes that provide pain relief, but without side effects. This procedure allows for an extremely precise and personalized stimulation treatment that has been shown to work for every individual “, said Jens Schouenborg.
Pain is blocked by activating the pain control centers of the brain itself, and these in turn only block the signal transfer in the pain pathways to the cerebral cortex.
“We have achieved near-total blockage of pain without affecting any other sensory systems or motor skills, which is a major step forward in pain research. Our results show that it is indeed possible to develop chronic pain relief without side effectsi, ”he explained Matilde Forni, researcher and first author of the new pain study.
During the project, which has been running for several years, researchers developed gelatin-based technology and tissue-compatible surgical techniques that enabled the ultra-thin flexible microelectrodes to be implanted with very high precision. According to the researchers, the new technique should work on all types of pain that are carried by the spinal cord – that is, most types of pain.
The most common form of pain relief today is through the use of medications.
“In our study we also compared our method with the morphine, which has been shown to provide significantly less pain relief. In addition, of course, morphine has a powerful sedative effect and other effects on cognitive functions. In the study we could also show that pain after sensitization (hyperalgesia), which is common in chronic pain, has been blocked “, said Jens Schouenborg.
The study in Lund was conducted on rats and there are questions about whether the results could be transferable to humans: “This is the goal. The human brain has control systems similar to those of the rat, and our ultra-thin microelectrode designs can also be exploited for humans“, Explained Matilde Forni.
Researchers hope that within five to eight years the method will lead to satisfactory stimulation treatment of individuals suffering from chronic pain, such as cancer pain or chronic pain related to spinal cord injury, for which satisfactory pain treatment is not available today.
The researchers also believe that the method could be used more widely to treat some pathologies: “”In principle, the method can be adapted to all parts of the brain, so we believe it could also be used in the treatment of degenerative brain diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, as well as in depression, epilepsy and possibly even stroke. The electrode technique also has applications in diagnostics and not least in research into how the mysterious brain works“, Concluded Jens Schouenborg.