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In Australia, scientists battle chronic pain with smart chip

Sydney researchers have developed a smart chip that can block pain signals from traveling to the brain.

Researchers in Sydney, Australia have developed a smart chip that can block pain signals from traveling to the brain.

The chip, which is designed to be implanted in the spinal cord, was developed by biomedical, electrical and mechanical engineers at National ICT Australia.

The idea isn't to block all pain signals; rather, it's to dial down the effects of chronic pain. Embedded in a biocompatible device, the chip -- smaller than the head of a match -- can measure the properties of the nerves that carry pain signals to the brain, then emit a 10-volt electric pulse to block them.

Our cousins at ZDNet Australia report:

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.

Voila: the brain never gets the memo.

The device isn't the first of its kind, but it's the first to be so small. Conventional devices are the size of a matchbox, making implantation a bit difficult, as such a device requires longer connection leads and must be placed further away from the spine.

Applications for the device include chronic back, neck and leg pain, as well as those suffering from migraines, Parkinson's disease or epileptic seizures.

The technology will be commercialized by Saluda Medical.

But there's still an elephant in the room: the fact that the device treats the symptom, not the problem.

Therefore, the question: is an elaborate, expensive solution to only symptoms worth it?

Here's a look in a video:

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com