Researchers at Northwestern University have developed a new dissolvable implant that relieves pain, providing an alternative to opioids and other highly addictive medications. Shaped like a transparent rubber band, the small and flexible device can relieve pain on demand without the use of drugs.

How It Works: The biocompatible and water-soluble device numbs neurons by gently wrapping around them to deliver controlled targeted cooling and prevents pain signals from reaching the brain. A user can remotely activate the device and increase or decrease its intensity via an external pump. Once the device is no longer required, it’s naturally absorbed into the body, negating the need for surgical extraction.

  • The implant only targets specific nerves that transmit the pain signals and does not touch the rest of the nerves that control vital functions.

The Status Quo: Previous similar methods used cryotherapy or electricity to relieve pain. While both were effective, they either damaged the tissue too much or activated the pain signals before shutting them down, making it painful for patients.

Why It Matters: The new implant could become a major step forward in the fight against opioid addiction. Many addicts were first prescribed opioids to relieve pain after surgery. Over the last decade, opioid addiction has dramatically increased in the US.

  • 68,630 individuals died from opioid overdoses in 2020, up from 21,088 deaths in 2010. 16,416 of these deaths in 2020 were caused by prescription medication, while most were caused by heroin or methamphetamine.
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