A team of British engineers and clinicians has developed an ultra-thin inflatable device that can be used to relieve pain without the need for invasive surgery. The device, developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge, uses a combination of soft robot technology, ultra-thin electronics, and microfluidics.
The device is so thin – about the width of a human hair – that it can be rolled up into a tiny cylinder, inserted into a needle, and implanted into the epidural space of the spinal column. It is in this area that injections are injected to control pain during childbirth.
Once properly positioned, the device is inflated with water or air so that it unfolds like a tiny inflatable mattress. When connected to a pulse generator, the ultra-thin electrodes send small electrical currents to the spinal cord that disrupt pain signals.
Early trials of the device show that it can be an effective treatment for severe pain, including in the legs and back, especially when medication is no longer helping. It can also be adapted to treat paralysis or Parkinson’s disease. However, extensive clinical studies will be required before using the device on patients, the authors of the development note.