Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a biocompatible device that could help patients who suffer from chronic pain, according to the MIT Technology Review.
The invention is a small, flexible light-emitting diode, or LED, that responds to the brain's neural activity. Researchers used lab mice to show how the device can manipulate parts of the brain that perceive pain. The process involves tweaking the DNA construct of neurons in the brain, which allows them to respond to light.
Here's what chronic pain looks like at the neurological level:
The research comes out of a team effort by Washington University in St. Louis' Robert Gereau, who leads a team dedicated to the study of pain, and John Rogers, an engineering professor who teaches at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
So far, researchers have only been able to determine that the micro-LEDs can successfully cause neurons to fire on command, causing pain, Discover News explains. To prove it, scientists genetically modified the mice, making their nerves hyper-sensitive to light. When put in a maze, the mice adapted to the layout, avoiding the section that activated the implanted micro-LED and caused discomfort.
Researchers hope their findings will one day allow doctors to control how a patient experiences pain and alleviate discomfort with the literal flip of a switch, MIT Technology Review reports.