Every so often we like to share stories about new technologies and innovations in the spine care community, and a new device being studied by researchers at the University of Cambridge could be the next big thing when it comes to helping patients find relief from chronic or severe back pain. Scientists believe they have created an inflatable spinal cord implant that can help to provide spine pain relief without the need for surgery. We take a closer look at this possibly revolutionary technology in today’s blog.
Inflatable Spinal Implant
The new device is thinner than a human hair and can be loaded into a tiny cylinder and delivered to a specific part of a person’s body using an image-guided injection. Once the device is in place, the implant is inflated with water or air, expanding the nearby area and covering a portion of the patient’s spinal cord. The device can then be connected to a pulse generator, which can send tiny electrical signals to the spinal cord to disrupt and block pain signals.
The idea behind the device is similar to previous stimulation devices that work to block or drown out painful nerve sensations, but the most effective units are rather large and require surgery to be inserted. Even when a keyhole operation can be used, device effectiveness leaves something to be desired. The new device is just 60 microns thick, and because it can be inserted by a simple injection, the process is much less taxing on the patient.
“Our goal was to make something that’s the best of both worlds – a device that’s clinically effective but that doesn’t require complex and risky surgery,” said senior author Dr. Christopher Proctor, of the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge. “This could help bring this life-changing treatment option to many more people.”
So far the device has been tested in vitro in a laboratory and on human cadaver models. The team of researchers is now working with manufacturing partners to attempt to bring the device to market, which they believe will take 2-3 years. They also have their sights on making the component more adaptable to help with other health conditions, like after a spinal cord injury, a stroke or Parkinson’s disease.
Spinal nerve implants have been around for decades, but like a lot of healthcare options, the goal is always to decrease the toll it takes on a patient. If these devices can truly be implanted with a needle and provide a high level of pain relief, they could absolutely change spine care treatment as we know it.
Other Spine Pain Relief Methods
With that said, spinal cord stimulators are rarely the first line of treatment, and many individuals find some back pain relief through other conservative methods, so this type of treatment may never be an option for the majority of people with back pain. But for those who can’t find relief through traditional methods and who may not be an ideal candidate for surgery, this microdevice could provide patients with a new sense of hope that they too can find pain relief. Hopefully further testing continues to show promise, and a few years from now we have another way to help provide patients with spine pain relief.
For help with any spine pain you’re dealing with at the moment, reach out to Dr. Sinicropi and his team today for a diagnosis and treatment plan.