A tiny nerve stimulator could block pain or treat neurological disorders

An implant not much larger than a grain of rice could treat chronic pain and disease as well as neurological disorders by stimulating nerves.

Researchers have the first proof-of-concept results from a year-long program to develop tiny, wireless devices that can treat neurological disorders or block pain.

The nerve stimulators do not require batteries and derive both their energy and their programming from a weak magnetic transmitter outside the body.

“Because the devices are so small, we can use blood vessels as a highway system to reach targets that are difficult to reach with traditional surgery.”

The MagnetoElectric Bio ImplanT – also known as the ME-BIT – is surgically placed and an electrode is inserted into a blood vessel in the direction of the nerve intended for stimulation. Once there, the device can be supplied with power and safely controlled via a near-field transmitter worn close to the body.

The researchers successfully tested the technology on animal models and found that it could charge and communicate with implants several centimeters under the skin.

The implant, detailed in Nature Biomedical Engineeringcould replace more invasive units now treating Parkinson’s diseaseepilepsy, chronic pain, hearing loss and paralysis.

“Because the devices are so small, we can use blood vessels as a highway system to reach goals that are difficult to reach with traditional surgery,” says Jacob Robinson, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and bioengineering at Rice University.

“We insert them with the same catheters you would use for an endovascular procedure, but we would leave the device outside the vessel and insert a guidewire into the bloodstream as a stimulating electrode that could be held in place with a stent .”

No batteries required

The ability to power the implants with magnetoelectric materials eliminates the need for electrical conduits through the skin and other tissues. Leads, such as those commonly used in pacemakers, can cause inflammation and sometimes need to be replaced. Battery-powered implants may also require an additional surgical procedure to replace the batteries.

ME-BIT portable charger requires no operation. Researchers showed that it can be misaligned by even a few centimeters and still have adequate power and communication with the implant.

The programmable 0.8 square millimeter implant contains a magnetoelectric film strip that converts magnetic energy into electrical energy. A built-in capacitor can store some of this energy, and a system-on-a-chip microprocessor translates modulations in the magnetic field into data. The components are held together by a 3D-printed capsule and additionally encapsulated with epoxy resin.

The magnetic field generated by the transmitter — about 1 millitesla — is easily tolerated by tissues, the researchers say. They estimate that the current implant can generate a maximum of 4 milliwatts of power, which is sufficient for many neural stimulation applications.

“One of the nice things is that all of the nerves in our body need oxygen and nutrients, which means there’s a blood vessel within a few hundred microns of all of the nerves,” says Robinson. “It’s all about tracking down the right blood vessels to achieve the goals.

“With a combination of imaging and anatomy, we can be pretty sure where to place the electrodes,” he says.

real-time detection

Research suggests that endovascular bioelectronics like ME-BIT could lead to a wide range of low-risk, high-precision therapies. The presence of electrodes in the bloodstream could also enable real-time sensing of biochemical, pH, and blood oxygen levels to provide diagnostics or support other medical devices.

Ultimately, the team hopes to deploy multiple implants and communicate with them simultaneously, Robinson says.

“That way we could have a distributed network in multiple locations. Other things we want to add are sensing, recording and back channel communication so we can use the implants as part of a closed system for both recording and stimulating activity.”

Kaiyuan Yang, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice, and Sunil Sheth, associate professor and director of the program in vascular neurology at the University of Texas Health Science Center’s McGovern Medical School, are co-principal authors of the study.

The National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation supported the research.

Source: Rice University A tiny nerve stimulator could block pain or treat neurological disorders

Dais Johnston

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