This Dissolvable Implant Could Revolutionize Pain Management

Millions of Americans live with pain, and while pain can be an important indicator of health, it can also be debilitating. Researchers from John Hopkins University and George Washington University estimate that pain costs Americans $560 billion to $635 billion annually. In the 1990s, pharmaceutical companies claimed they had the answer: opioids. Now we know that opioids are highly addictive and overdoses kill nearly 500,000 people each year. Since discovering the addictive properties of opioids, scientists have been working to come up with a safer alternative to relieve pain. Biomedical engineer John A. Rogers of Northwestern University thinks he may have created one — an implantable, dissolvable device that cools nerves in the body. Using cooling, the implant would numb specific peripheral nerves that connect the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body. This measure would block pain signals to the brain, effectively regulating pain in specific parts of the body. The soft, rubber band-like structure, about as thick as a sheet of paper, moves naturally with the muscle tissue surrounding the nerve. The device is also fully dissolvable in the body, which eliminates the risks involved in surgical removal. The time it takes to dissolve is usually days or weeks, depending on the material used and its thickness. The device allows a user to regulate their own pain relief, which is a major benefit. While the device has been tested on rats with success, clinical trials in humans has yet to be done.