Cambridge, UK—— Back problems plague millions of people around the world, and for many people, surgery seems inevitable. Even so, there is no guarantee that the problem will disappear. But there may be a new and less invasive way of relief. According to a new study, scientists have created an inflatable spinal cord implant that can heal severe back pain without the patient having to use a knife.
The device is not thicker than human hair and can be rolled into a tiny cylinder and then inserted into the patient’s body with a needle. Once in place, the implant will be inflated with water or air, inflating like a miniature air mattress, covering most of the patient’s spinal cord. It can then be connected to a pulse generator, which sends a small current through the spinal cord, destroying the pain signal to treat back pain.
Scientists at the University of Cambridge hope that the device can be used to treat millions of people worldwide who suffer from joint and back pain.
Other types of spinal cord “stimulators” can be used to treat back pain. But the most effective ones are bulky and require invasive surgery, while those that can be implanted through keyhole surgery are less effective.
Study co-author, Dr. Damiano Barone from the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Cambridge, said: “For those whose pain is so severe that they cannot perform daily activities, spinal cord stimulation is the last resort.” Released. “However, the two main types of SCS devices have defects, which may be one of the reasons for their limited use, even though millions of people are struggling with chronic pain every day.”
For most people, pain is temporary and treatable, but for some people, it becomes a part of daily life. In particular, back pain causes hundreds of billions of dollars in losses to the United States every year, or even more. However, many people still choose not to see a doctor.
A combination of manufacturing technologies is used to manufacture new equipment.
“In order to finally get something that can be implanted with a needle, we need to make the device as thin as possible,” said co-first author Ben Woodington, a PhD student in the university’s engineering department.
Flexible electronics in the semiconductor industry are combined with microfluidic channels for drug delivery and deformable materials in the field of soft robotics. The finished product is only 60 microns thick, which means it can be rolled up and inserted into a needle, and it can be inflated because of the microfluidic channel.
“Thin-film electronic devices are not new, but the combined fluid chamber is unique to our device-this allows it to expand into a paddle-like shape once it enters the patient’s body,” noted senior author Dr. Christopher Proctor, also from the Department of Engineering. .
Early versions of the device were barely visible under X-rays, which needed to help the surgeon confirm that they were properly placed before inflation. Woodington explained: “We added some bismuth particles to make them visible without adding too much thickness.” “Designing a device is one thing, but using it for surgery is another.”
The most effective SCS treatment on the market is a paddle-shaped device that requires the patient to perform surgery under general anesthesia. Other smaller devices, which can also be implanted with a needle, cover only a small part of the surface area of the spinal cord, and are therefore less effective.
“Our goal is to create the best of both worlds-a device that is clinically effective but does not require complex and risky surgery,” Proctor said. “This may help bring this life-changing treatment option to more people.”
Potential back pain treatments have been tested in vitro in laboratories and human cadaver models. Now, researchers are working with manufacturing partners to bring it to market, and they estimate it will take two to three years.
“The way we make the device means that we can also add other components-we can add more electrodes or make it bigger to cover a larger area of the spine with greater precision,” Barone added. “This adaptability can make our SCS device a potential treatment for paralysis after spinal cord injury or stroke or movement disorders (such as Parkinson’s disease). An effective device that does not require invasive surgery can bring relief to so many people. .”
Research results are published in journals Scientific progress.
SWNS writer Tom Campbell contributed to this report.