Innovative non-pharmacological pain management practice developed by scientists – This is how the technique works
Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have developed a completely new method of stimulation with ultra-thin microelectrodes that fight intense pain, providing effective and personalized relief without the common side effects of painkillers.
Lack of treatment for chronic pain without side effects often significantly worsens patients’ quality of life, since, without analgesic treatment, persistent pain makes it difficult for the patient to function in daily life. Traditional therapy significantly reduces pain, but at the same time affects the senses and mental function, while there is a significant risk of developing a drug addiction.
Pain also comes at a significant cost to society in the form of sick leave, health care costs and loss of productivity. A research team led by neurophysiology professor Jens Schouenborg, therefore, developed a method for combating pain through personalized stimulation using ultra-thin, tissue-friendly microelectrodes.
“The electrodes are very soft and extremely gentle on the brain. They are used to specifically activate the brain’s pain control centres without simultaneously activating the nerve cell circuits that produce side effects. The method involves implanting a cluster of the ultra-thin electrodes and then selecting a sub-group of the electrodes that provide pure pain relief, but no side effects. This procedure enables extremely precise and personalised stimulation treatment that was shown to work for every individual,” explains Dr. Schouenborg.
The pain is prevented by activating the pain control centers of the brain, which in turn only prevent the transmission of signals to the pain pathways of the cerebral cortex.
“We have achieved an almost total blockade of pain without affecting any other sensory system or motor skill, which is a major breakthrough in pain research. Our results show that it is actually possible to develop powerful and side effect-free pain relief, something that has been a major challenge up to now,” added Matilde Forni, the study’s lead author.
During this work, which has been evolving for many years, researchers have developed a tissue-friendly gelatin-based technology and surgical techniques that have made it possible to implant flexible microelectrodes with very high precision. According to the researchers, this new technique will be applied to all the already existing pain located in the spine.
“In our study we also compared our method with morphine, which was shown to deliver considerably less pain relief. In addition, of course, morphine has a powerful sedative effect as well as other cognitive effects. In the study we could also show that pain after sensitisation (hyperalgesia), which is common in chronic pain, was blocked,” said Dr. Schouenborg.
The goal of scientists now is to transfer the results of the study to humans, hoping that within 5-8 years this method will lead to satisfactory treatments in people with chronic pain.
The study, performed on mice, was published in Science Advances.
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