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News Archive 2001 - 2010

Researchers Team to Alleviate Chronic Pain with Wireless Stimulators

July 21, 2010

An interdisciplinary study involving faculty members in the Colleges of Engineering and Science at The University of Texas at Arlington should lead to implantable wireless stimulators that provide full-time pain blockage automatically and optimally.

Professor of Electrical Engineering J. C. Chiao is working with Yuan Bo Peng, M.D., an associate professor of psychology in the College of Science, on the pain management systems. Professor Chiao has developed wireless sensors for the monitoring of gastroesophageal reflux and foresees new uses for wireless implantable devises, especially through collaborations with Dr. Peng, whose expertise is in the neurophysiological mechanisms of sensory transmission, mainly pain.

The two will be studying pain signal paths and pain inhibition efficacy using implantable wireless neurostimulators integrated with an automatic feedback mechanism that optimize stimulation according to a patient’s own physiological conditions. Their combined technological expertise will allow the development of a portable pain management system, working automatically in the background inside patient’s body, to constantly optimize comfort levels.

There are several benefits. “Our pain management system can be tuned to avoid unwanted side effects of current neurostimulators, which require patients to frequently adjust their own settings manually,” said Dr. Chiao. “Many patients may not be able to deal with electronics, and too much stimulation will cause tingling sensations or numbness. Our system will be an automatic one that only requires an initial setup; the system will then self adjust the ‘dose’ to give maximum comfort.”

In addition, their approach will allow physicians to quantitatively analyze pain even though pain is a subjective feeling, eliminate wires around the body for connections and avoid entirely the harmful side effects of current pain management methods that employ powerful drugs.

Their project is being funded by a two-year, $198,600 grant from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. The device development and experiment protocols will be completed at the end of this grant, which will lead to the next step – pursuing approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for human trials.

“We have heard from an abundance of people who volunteered for the trials as soon as they heard about our technologies.” said Dr. Chiao. “It’s amazing how many people are suffering with chronic pain and it’s heartwarming to know we can do something for them.”