An Inflatable Implant for Chronic Back Pain

chronic back pain
Source: Unsplash

There are many causes for chronic back pain. These include muscle strain, ruptured or displaced spinal disks, joint diseases such as arthritis, or bone conditions like osteoporosis. While the first two may get better with exercise or surgery, chronic back pain often leaves people incapacitated and reliant on symptomatic treatment such as constant pain medication, which sometimes doesn’t work.

A more permanent way to manage chronic back pain is through a spinal cord stimulator (SCS) device. Surgeons implant these devices into the dura mater layer of the cord where they mask pain signals traveling from the affected area to the brain.
According to Damiano Barone, a clinical neuroscientist from the University of Cambridge:

“Spinal cord stimulation is a treatment of last resort, for those whose pain has become so severe that it prevents them from carrying out everyday activities”.

There are two types of implants available currently. The more effective variety requires a traumatic implantation surgery that involves the removal of a piece of the vertebra to access the spinal column inside. There is a smaller variety available that is relatively easy to insert into the dura via a wide-bore needle. However, it hasn’t proved to be clinically effective at managing pain.

A tiny air mattress

This is why researchers from the University of Cambridge have recently come up with a device that is not only effective but also easy to embed. It is a tiny inflatable implant that can be rolled up to a 2mm cylinder and inserted into the epidural space via a needle. Surgeons can then inflate the stimulator with air or liquid so that it unrolls to cover a large section of the cord – just like an air mattress.

The researchers first tested their design’s insertion and inflation using a model spinal cord and found it a success. Subsequently, they used cadavers to validate the procedure in vitro.

Having patented their device, the scientists believe that this inflatable device will make SCS therapy much easier in the future.

“The way we make the device means that we can also incorporate additional components – we could add more electrodes or make it bigger in order to cover larger areas of the spine with increased accuracy. This adaptability could make our SCS device a potential treatment for paralysis following spinal cord injury or stroke or movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. An effective device that doesn’t require invasive surgery could bring relief to so many people.” -Barone

Source: University of Cambridge


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