Researchers at NYU Langone’s Grossman School of Medicine have found that a computerised brain implant could efficiently alleviate short-term and chronic pain in a new preclinical study.
This data could be a ‘blueprint’ for creating brain implants to treat pain syndromes as well as other brain-based disorders, including anxiety, depression and panic attacks, the scientists noted.
According to the study, rodents with the implant withdrew their paws 40% more slowly from sudden pain as against times when the device was switched off.
This indicates that the computer-controlled device lowered the pain intensity experienced by the animals, study authors said.
Furthermore, rodents in sudden or continuous pain spent more time in a chamber where the device was turned on by nearly two-thirds compared to a chamber where the device was off.
Using a closed-loop brain-machine interface technology, the implant senses brain activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, a brain region vital for pain processing.
Subsequently, a computer connected to the device automatically detects electrical patterns in the brain closely associated with pain.
On detecting signs of pain, the computer induces treatment stimulation of the prefrontal cortex region of the brain, to relieve the pain.
Furthermore, the device works only in the presence of pain, thereby lowering the risk of overuse and possible tolerance in the future.
Unlike opioids, the implant offers no further rewards, so would provide pain relief with a low risk of addiction.
In the study, the implant was able to precisely detect pain up to 80% of the time, the institute noted.
NYU Langone Perioperative Care and Pain Medicine anaesthesiology department doctoral fellow and lead study investigator Qiaosheng Zhang said: “Our results demonstrate that this device may help researchers better understand how pain works in the brain.
“Moreover, it may allow us to find non-drug therapies for other neuropsychiatric disorders, such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress.”
The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded the study, which is the first to test a computerised brain implant to identify and relieve pain in real-time.
Currently, the researchers are planning to study less invasive versions of the brain implant with the potential for use in humans.