Sydney researchers are getting ready to conduct human trials next year of a smart chip, which, when implanted in the spinal cord, can measure and stop pain signals from travelling to the brain.
Positioning of the chip to stop the pain signals (Credit: NICTA)
The technology, targeting chronic pain, was developed in Sydney by National ICT Australia (NICTA) over the last two years by experts in biomedical, electrical and mechanical engineering, as well as textile technology and software applications.
The smart chip is put into a biocompatible device, which is a little smaller than the head of a match. A couple of the devices are sewn into a 1.22mm wide micro-lead made from polymer yarn and electronic wires. The wires are then inserted into the spine (or elsewhere) and connected to a device containing a battery and a computer processor. The battery can be charged wirelessly.
This set-up, according to NICTA, can then measure the properties of nerves carrying pain signals to the brain and can send a 10V electric pulse to block the signals, which tricks the brain into thinking there's no pain.
According to NICTA CTO implant technologies Dr John Parker, current devices used to block pain signals to the brain are larger, around the size of a matchbox.
The smaller size of the NICTA device improves its reliability as it can be implanted closer to the spine and needs shorter connection leads.
The device could be used to treat chronic back pain, leg pain and pain from nerve damage, but could also help those suffering from migraines, Parkinson's disease tremors or epileptic seizures.
NICTA wants to commercialise the technology in Sydney, planning to create a new spin-out company called Saluda Medical.
The organisation quoted research which said that chronic pain costs the Australian economy more than $34.3 billion a year and results in more than 36 million lost working days a year.