This Inflatable Spinal Implant Could Offer Significant Back Pain Relief

A new, shape-changing device may improve the lives of many with chronic pain.

Jul 16, 2021
This Inflatable Spinal Implant Could Offer Significant Back Pain Relief | A new, shape-changing device may improve the lives of many with chronic pain.

For those who still have doubts about the potential of technological advances to improve the quality of life of human beings, an incredible new invention that revolutionizes the treatment of severe back pain, may help change their minds.

The breakthrough device, an ultra-thin, shape-changing inflatable device developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge, brings a paradigm change that aims to treat severe forms of back pain with no need for invasive surgery, Cambridge University reveals.

Using a combination of bioelectronics and soft robotics and microfluidics, the shape-adaptive technology may be effective in the treatment of different forms of severe pain, many of which are not responsive to conventional treatments. These include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or opioid drugs, the paper, published in scientific journal Science Advances, details. 

How the invention works is pretty amazing. Featuring flexible electronics and integrated fluidic channels, the device, which is about the width of a human hair, can be rolled up into the shape of a standard percutaneous needle that is implanted through minimally invasive means. 

When in place, it is unfolded into its expanded paddle-type original shape with the help of water or air. Once covering a large section of the spinal cord, it is connected to a pulse generator which sends small electrical currents that disrupt pain signals.

While most people have experienced temporary and treatable pain, traditional treatments simply don’t work for a significant group of the population. In the US alone, more than 20 percent of adults have chronic pain and almost eight percent suffer from high-impact chronic pain, meaning chronic pain that frequently limits life or work activities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the national public health agency of the United States, estimates. 

Spinal cord stimulators have been used in clinics for many years,  now being one of the most established therapies for treating chronic pain. Current available stimulators fall into two categories, Technology Networks, a scientific news publication, details. Paddle-shaped stimulators, which have been shown to be effective but are bulky and require invasive surgery, or thinner stimulators that use a less invasive approach via needle-puncture of the skin, which are thought to be far less effective.

The researchers at Cambridge University have managed to develop an effective solution to offer pain relief that wisely combines the clinical effectiveness of the surgical devices and the patient-friendly implantation of the percutaneous method, which can improve the lives of millions around the world. 

How were the device and implantation techniques validated? This involved several steps. Initially, the researchers aimed to design and test this invention within an in vitro environment, producing a robust still ultra-thin device. They also focused on validating the creation in a clinically relevant model by using human cadavers to practice injecting the device through a needle into the lower back, as reported in New Scientist. 

Even though more tests and trials are needed before the new approach can be used on patients, the expectations are high and the possibilities very promising. The groundbreaking invention also has the potential to be adapted to treat other types of challenging conditions, the University points out. 

“The way we make the device means that we can also incorporate additional components - we could add more electrodes or make it bigger in order to cover larger areas of the spine with increased accuracy,” said Dr Damiano Barone from Cambridge’s Department of Clinical Neurosciences and one of the paper’s authors.

“This adaptability could make our SCS device a potential treatment for paralysis following spinal cord injury or stroke or movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. An effective device that doesn’t require invasive surgery could bring relief to so many people,” he explains.

This Smart Teen Invented Color-Changing Sutures to Detect Infection
Doctors Could be Able to Diagnose Skin Cancers in Only 10 Seconds
New Cancer Research Technique Could Replace Lab Animals

With a love for fashion, technology, self-development, nature and communication, Daiana is a freelance writer. She is the creator of an online community platform dedicated to providing inspiration and information on trends, developments and positive impact initiatives in the world of Sustainable Fashion.