A smart chip from Down Under that is implanted beneath the skin will treat chronic pain from closer to the spine than ever before.
The Implantable Neuro Sensing and Stimulation (INS2) will begin tests in humans next year, and the group of researchers from the National ICT Australia who developed it already have plans to form a new company in Sydney to market it: Saluda Medical.
Slightly smaller than the head of a match – the best implants today are only as small as a matchbox – the chip works by blocking pain signals on their way to the brain. An internal processor is inserted in a biocompatible device, then a few of these devices are sewn up together into a polymer containing electronic wires that stretches a short 1.22 mm across. The processor monitors the properties of nerves as they take in stimuli and send out responses to the brain. It then delivers an electric pulse up to 10 volts which essentially masks pain signals. Depending on the specifics of the nervous message, the chip can adjust the voltage of the pulse it sends. Its batteries recharge wirelessly.
Nerve damage, chronic back or leg pain – even epileptic seizures and Parkinson's disease: the smart chip could potentially address almost any problem associated with pain and the spinal cord.