Prescription painkillers may soon have some competition. Engineers with the University of Virginia have developed a practical device that effectively delivers a mild electrical current through spinal cord implants to treat chronic pain.
The development, published in the Journal of Applied Physics, opens the door to a potential new way to offer more relief to the more than 35,000 Americans who are implanted each year with spinal cord stimulators to ease pain — an approach that works for only about half of those who receive it and offers only limited benefits.
But the new device delivers therapeutic stimulation in a more targeted way, reaching nerve fibers deep within the spinal cord.
The engineers explained that standard devices, first introduced in 1967, work by delivering a low electrical current to the spinal cord that interferes with the body's pain signals. But they are only able to deliver current to a thin layer of nerve fibers on the outside of the spinal cord.
The new device — the Human Spinal Cord Modulation System (HSCMS) — is designed to be in direct contact with the spinal cord.
Tests of the device found it has passed key safety and effectiveness tests — findings that pave the way for developing it for use in patients.
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