We have all experienced physical pain, whether from everyday bumps and bruises or more serious surgical recovery. While there are numerous pharmaceutical strategies to relieve pain, the ongoing opioid epidemic highlights the need and desire for alternative approaches. In their latest publication, Reeder et al. describe a soft cooling cuff that interfaces directly with the nerve and blocks pain signals. This new technology not only holds promise in pain relief, but also has numerous other potential applications.

Ice packs and other approaches to cool sites of injury have long been used to reduce swelling and relieve pain. But could this analgesic effect be delivered directly to the affected nerves? This is exactly what Reeder and colleagues hoped to do in their development of a soft, miniaturized, implantable cooler.  Current cooling systems are large and rigid, limiting their practical use. Reeder et al. takes advantage of evaporative microfluidics in order to slim down their design. Instead of pumping precooled fluid through their design, they pump a liquid coolant called perfluoropentane (PFP) and nitrogen gas in separate channels that meet in a cooling chamber. When PFP and nitrogen come into contact, PFP evaporates, leading to a cooling effect, similar to how sweat evaporating cools the skin. Additionally, they incorporated a temperature sensor alongside the cooling chamber in order to allow for precise temperature control. To top it all off, the device is also bioresorbable, meaning it dissolves in the body, eliminating the need for any painful removal procedures.

Such a device is an exciting development in both the search for non-opioid pain management and the neuroscience field as a whole. The size, flexibility, and overall design of this device establishes a basis for the further development of implantable devices. These devices open up a whole world of direct nerve interventions and treatments.     

This study was led by Jonathan T. Reeder while completing his Post-Doctoral research at Northwestern University in Evanston IL.  He currently is an Assistant Professor at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon, where his research focuses on bio-integrated technologies.

Managing Correspondent: Stacey Yu

Press Articles: Cooling the painScience

Original Journal Article: Soft, bioresorbable coolers for reversible conduction block of peripheral nervesScience.

Image Credit: Pixabay

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