An implantable brain device relieves pain in an initial study

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Cerebellum of the CIVM postnatal rat brain atlas. Credit: Neurolex

A new study finds that a computerized brain implant effectively relieves short-term chronic pain in rodents.

The experiments, conducted by researchers at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, offer what researchers call a “plan” for the development of brain implants to treat. syndromes and other brain-based disorders such as anxiety, depression, and panic attacks.

Publication of June 21 in the magazine Biomedical Engineering of Nature, the study showed that rats implanted in the device removed their legs 40% more slowly from sudden pain compared to the times the device was turned off.

According to the study authors, this suggests that the device reduced the intensity of pain experienced by rodents. In addition, animals with sudden or continuous pain spent about two-thirds more time in a room where the computer-controlled device was turned on than in a room where it was not.

Researchers say the research is the first to use a computerized brain implant to detect and relieve pain outbreaks in real time. The device is also the first to be used for this type , which often occurs without being triggered by a known activator, the study authors say.

“Our findings show that this implant offers a for pain therapy, even in cases where symptoms are traditionally difficult to locate or control, ”says the study’s lead author, Jing Wang, MD, Ph.D., Valentino DB Mazzia, MD , associate professor in the Department of Anesthesiology at NYU Langone Health.

Chronic pain is estimated to affect one in four adults in the United States, although so far safe and reliable treatments have proven difficult to use, says Wang, also vice president of clinical and translational research at NYU Langone. . Particularly for back pain, current therapies such as opioids tend to be less effective over time as people become desensitized to treatment. In addition, medications such as opioids activate the brain’s reward centers to create sensations of pleasure that can lead to addiction.

Computerized brain implants, previously investigated to prevent epileptic seizures and control prosthetic devices, can prevent many of these problems, Wang says. The technology, known as the closed-loop brain-machine interface, detects brain activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region of the brain that is critical for pain processing. A computer connected to the device automatically identifies electrical patterns in the brain that are closely linked to pain. When signs of pain are detected, the computer triggers therapeutic stimulation from another region of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, to facilitate it.

Because the device is only activated in the presence of pain, Wang says, it decreases the risk of overuse and any potential for tolerance can develop. In addition, because the implant does not offer a reward beyond pain relief, as opioids do, the risk of addiction is minimized.

As part of the study, researchers installed small electrodes in the brains of dozens of rats and then exposed them to carefully measured amounts of pain. The animals were closely monitored to determine how quickly they moved away from the source of pain. This allowed the researchers to track how often the device correctly identified pain based on pain. in the anterior cingulate cortex and how effectively it could decrease the resulting sensation.

According to the study authors, the implant accurately detected pain up to 80 percent of the time.

“Our results show that this device can help researchers better understand how brain pain works,” says study lead researcher Qiaosheng Zhang, PhD, a member of the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative Care and University of Langone. “In addition, it may allow us to find non-pharmacological therapies for other neuropsychiatric disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress.”

Zhang adds that implant pain detection properties could be improved by installing electrodes in other regions of the area. beyond the . He warns, however, that the technology is not yet suitable for use in humans, but says work is being done to investigate less invasive ways that can be adapted to human use.


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More information:
A prototype closed-loop brain-machine interface for the study and treatment of pain, Biomedical Engineering of Nature (2021). DOI: 10.1038 / s41551-021-00736-7 , www.nature.com/articles/s41551-021-00736-7

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NYU Langone Health


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