New Electrical Stimulation Technology from MIT/Harvard Promises to Treat Epilepsy, Chronic Pain and Nerve Damage Without the Side Effects

Posted by erik devaney

While it may sound like a method that is favored by Mary Shelley’s fictional Dr. Frankenstein, electrical stimulation is a legitimate medical technique that scientists are exploring in the fight against epilepsy, chronic pain and debilitating nerve damage.

By shutting down excessive activity in brain cells through the use of electrical stimulation, scientists have shown that they can potentially treat epilepsy and chronic pain. Similarly, electrical stimulation can enhance the activity of nerve cells and may help restore function to patients suffering from nerve damage.

The main drawback of electrical simulation, however, is that it can cause painful side effects.

Because the body is conductive, electric current can spread beyond targeted areas during electrical stimulation. This is especially true when it comes to providing electrical stimulation to the face, as the nerves that control facial movements and the nerves that carry pains signals are particularly close together.

Now, researchers at MIT and Harvard Medical School have discovered a way to maximize the benefits of electrical simulation while minimizing the drawbacks.

The new approach involves reducing the amount of electric current needed to stimulate motor nerves, which are the nerves responsible for controlling movement. Researchers accomplish this by adding special membrane coatings to electrical implants. The coatings act as filters, allowing only certain ions to pass through.

As a result of this “ion-filtering,” the MIT and Harvard Medical School researchers are able to alter the concentration of ions surrounding nerves. This, in turn, dramatically reduces the amount of electric current needed for stimulation, minimizing the undesired spread of current into different locations.

In addition, filtering ions allowed the researchers to interrupt electric impulses as they traveled along nerves, which could have significant implications when it comes to both relieving chronic pain and shutting down out-of-control electrical activity that is characteristic of epilepsy.

While not yet ready for human testing, the breakthrough technology has the potential to increase the efficiency of existing electrical stimulation devices and promises to make treatments more tolerable for suffering patients.

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Posted by erik devaney on Oct 28 2011. Filed under Health. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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