World-first smartchip for chronic pain developed in Sydney

Tuesday, 14 December, 2010


NSW Treasurer and Minister for State and Regional Development Eric Roozendaal has announced Sydney researchers are preparing for human trials of a world-first smartchip designed to treat chronic pain by implanting it near the spinal cord.

The breakthrough miniature technology - called INS2 - measures pain signals then blocks the signals from travelling to the brain.

Roozendaal said the revolutionary technology has been designed in Sydney by NICTA, Australia's ICT Research Centre of Excellence, and developed at its Australian Technology Park Laboratory.

The pain management technology project is the result of two years of research by a NICTA implant systems team of 10 experts in biomedical, electrical and mechanical engineering, textile technology and software applications.

The project is being led from NSW by NICTA Chief Technology Officer Dr John Parker, the former Chief Technology Officer for the Sydney-based global bionic ear implant company Cochlear.

The new technology has the potential to be the next Cochlear, only larger. This exciting new technology research, being led right here in Sydney, has the potential to deliver a revolution in the management of chronic pain and bring relief to many thousands of sufferers worldwide, Roozendaal said.

“The device will be used to treat chronic pain and even has potential to treat other neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease tremors and epileptic seizures.”

INS2, which stands for Implantable Neuro Sensing and Stimulation, works by:

  1. A tiny smartchip is built into a biocompatible device slightly smaller than the size of a match head;
  2. One or more of these devices is then sewn into a 1.2 mm wide micro lead, made from a polymer yarn integrated with electronic wires;
  3. These leads are then inserted in the spine or other suitable location;
  4. The leads are then connected to a central device slightly larger than a mobile phone SIM card, which contains a miniature battery and intelligent computer processor;
  5. The device can be fully implanted in many places in the body;
  6. The system then measures the properties of the nerves that conduct pain signals to the brain;
  7. It sends an electric pulse of up to 10 volts to block these pain signals;
  8. This tricks the brain and results in the patient feeling less pain;
  9. The central device includes a built-in miniature battery which can be charged wirelessly;
  10. There are no external wires or devices or a need to hook up to recharge batteries, meaning the pain sufferer is free to carry on their normal routine.

NICTA's Dr John Parker said current nerve stimulation devices used to disrupt pain signals to the brain are about the size of a matchbox (12 cubic centimetres) with cumbersome components and leads.

“We are working to make this medical device much smaller and much smarter than current technologies, to get better outcomes for patients,  Parker said.

“The new NICTA device will be much smaller, allowing it to be located close to the spine, making implant surgery easier, and improving device reliability due to the need for shorter connection leads.”

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