Sydney scientists beat pain with spinal chip

Sydney scientists beat pain with spinal chip

Summary: 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.

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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.

The spinal chip in action

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.

Topics: Government, Government AU, Start-Ups

Suzanne Tindal

About Suzanne Tindal

Suzanne Tindal cut her teeth at ZDNet.com.au as the site's telecommunications reporter, a role that saw her break some of the biggest stories associated with the National Broadband Network process. She then turned her attention to all matters in government and corporate ICT circles. Now she's taking on the whole gamut as news editor for the site.

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9 comments
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  • Please tell me how to get more information regarding the spinal chip.
    meandu2000
  • I also would really like to know how to get in on these trials...is there any contact info for the scientists conducting the trials?
    RainyCat
  • Hi Guys,

    Those who want to get into contact with the NICTA team about the trials can do so via this email: john.parker@nicta.com.au.

    Suzanne Tindal
    News Editor
    suzanne.tindal
  • I WOULD LIKE MORE INFORMATION ON THE SPINAL CHIP. I WOULD ALSO BE WILLING TO VOLUNTEER FOR THIS PROCEDURE. BEEN SUFFERING TOO LONG.
    MICHELLE-a8823
  • I like to volunteer for the procedure I have been in for a long time. please tell how and where to get the spinal chip?
    deigo-b0402
  • This is great! The world of science and tech is truly taking man beyond limitations! kudos NICTA!
    bosman1966
  • Iam a carpenter&Joiner 74year old and retired suffering from in earlier years bad migrains accompanied by most of the leftside of my body in pain from an injury in the early years of my work
    i would be willing to join in any trials you may recomend
    bazer111
  • Can you tell me what hospital is trialing the spinal chip
    lynfisher
  • Pleas pass on any and all info on trial when, where, who and how, you have one volunteer right here.............
    Allee-7082b