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Published: 2015-05-11 09:19 | Updated: 2015-05-11 09:19

Ion pump gives the body its own pain alleviation

In a recent study, published in the journal Science Advances, researchers at Karolinska Institutet and Linköping University present a small ion pump in organic electronics that can stop pain impulses in living, freely moving rats by using the body’s own pain relief signals. This innovation gives new hope to people suffering from sever nerve pain for which no other cure yet has been found.

The research team describes the implantable ion pump as a kind of pacemaker for alleviating pain, and estimate that it could be in clinical use in five to ten years. However, while a pacemaker sends electrical impulses to the heart, the ion pump sends out the body’s own pain alleviator – charged molecules of what are known as neurotransmitters – to the exact place where the damaged nerves come into contact with the spinal cord. This means that the pain impulses never reach the brain.

Organic electronics is a class of materials capable of easy translation between electronic and biochemical signals. In the current study, the device delivered the neurotransmitter γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA), whose natural task is to inhibit stimuli in our central nervous system. An electric current through the ion pump is all that is needed for the GABA neurotransmitter to be spread as a thin cloud at these exact locations on the spinal cord. So far, the pain alleviation has had no negative side effects, according to the researchers.

The ion pump project is a part of a the OBOE multidisciplinary research center within organic bioelectronics, which includes ten research groups from Linköping Unviersity, Karolinska Institutet and Acreo Swedish ITC. Principal investigator at Linköping University was Professor Magnus Berggren, and head of the preclinical part of the project at Karolinska Instiutet was professor Bengt Linderoth. This work was funded by VINNOVA, the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, and the Swedish Research Council, amongst others.

Publication

Therapy using implanted organic bioelectronics
Amanda Jonsson, Zhiyang Song, David Nilsson, Björn A. Meyerson, Daniel T. Simon, BengtLinderoth, Magnus Berggren
Science Advances 8 May 2015, Vol. 1 no. 4 e1500039, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1500039