A small ion pump in organic electronics is giving new hope to people suffering from severe nerve pain. Researchers at Swedish Linköping University (LiU) and Karolinska Institutet (KI) are the first in the world with technology that can stop pain impulses in living, freely moving rats using the body’s own pain relief signals.
The results of ten years of research are now being published in Science Advances.
The implantable “ion pump” that delivers the body’s own pain alleviators with exact dosage precisely to the location where the pain signals reach the spinal cord for further transmission to the brain, could be in clinical use in five to ten years. Firstly, the device gives hope to the seven percent of the world’s population suffering from nerve pain for whom no other cure has been found – until now. But the pump could also be used to supply therapeutic substances to the brain and other parts of the body in addition to the spinal cord.
“The ion pump can be likened to a pacemaker, except for alleviating pain,” says Professor Magnus Berggren, head of the research conducted by Assistant Professor Daniel Simon and PhD student Amanda Jonsson at the Laboratory of Organic Electronics at Linköping University’s Campus Norrköping, in collaboration with Dr. Zhiyang Song of the Department of Clinical Neuroscience at Karolinska Institutet, where Professor Bengt Linderoth leads the preclinical side of the project.
While a pacemaker sends electrical impulses to the heart, the ion pump sends out the body’s own pain alleviator – charged molecules of what are known as neurotransmitters – to the exact place where the damaged nerves come into contact with the spinal cord. This means that the pain impulses never reach the brain. In this case, the device delivered the neurotransmitter γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA), whose natural task is to inhibit stimuli in our central nervous system.