Scientists have created organic ion transistors able to block pain signals before they reach the brain
Medical electronic devices of a new type are able to make life for people who are experiencing persistent pain associated with certain types of chronic diseases, easier. A tiny “ion pump”, a kind of organic ion transistor designed by the Linköping University team, can be introduced into the patient’s body, after that it will block certain pain signals in the spinal cord before they reach the brain. Furthermore, the device is configured in such a manner that it freely transmits the pain signals associated with protective responses of the human body.
The effect of the ion transistor is alike a pacemaker’s one, generating pulses of electric current, correcting wrong heartbeat. Ion transistor uses no electrodes and the current pulse, the device is constructed on the basis of fully biologically compatible materials, sending chemical signals, neurotransmitting substances, which conduct or block the passage of a certain type of nerve impulses.
However, neither the device nor the chemical signals block the passage of pain signals. It acts by activating its own pain-suppressing protective function of the human body, which no longer conducts these signals through the spinal cord to the brain.
The effect of the ion transistor was tested on rodents, which were conscious and had freedom of movement. The device was designed so that four specific points of the spinal cord, wherever signals come from specially damaged nerves, were constantly supplying the pain-suppressing neurotransmitter (γ-aminobutyric acid, GABA). The presence of the neurotransmitter successfully blocked the passage of pain signals to the brain of the animal and had no side effects.
“The uniqueness of our development is the use of organic electronics, which send natural chemical signals to the human body” – says Daniel Simon (Daniel Simon), the professor at the University of Linköping, – “We use organic materials that are easily accepted by the human body and work as most biological processes, due to the movement of electrically charged ions.”
The scientists do not expect an easy and fast way for their inventions prior to applying them to humans. This process is very long, and according to preliminary estimates, will take from 5 to 10 years. And protection against chronic pain is not the only field of application of the ionic organic transistors; such devices may be used to deliver different drugs to different parts of the human body, for example, right to the brain for the treatment of diseases such as Parkinson's disease or epilepsy.