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Injectable electrodes may help treat everything from chronic pain to depression

Biomedical Engineering Professor Kip Ludwig explains neuromodulation

A novel drug-free treatment for health conditions ranging from chronic pain to epileptic seizures or depression could be on the horizon — and it involves injectable electrodes.

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The concept builds on the technique of electrically stimulating nerves. This kind of neuromodulation treatment is already in service in today’s hospitals. It works by altering nerve activity through targeted electrical stimulation. While this has been shown to be effective, however, the treatment also poses problems. Specifically, surgically implanted devices can be expensive, require complex procedures to install, and are prone to failing due to the challenge of getting rigid devices to interact with the body’s soft biological tissues.

The new approach — referred to as “injectrodes” by its creators — involves electrodes injected into the body as a liquid. The injectrodes are made from a silicone base, similar to a surgical sealant, infused with small metal particles to make the liquid conductive. Once injected, the material then cures inside the body, establishing a new kind of neural interface system.

Neuronoff, Inc.

“The envisioned patient experience is an outpatient procedure that begins with a local numbing of the intended injection location with an anesthetic agent such as lidocaine,” Manfred Franke, co-founder and CEO of Neuronoff, the company set up to commercialize the technology, told Digital Trends. “Using ultrasound or fluoroscopy to visualize the local anatomy, the physician places the injectrode via needle injection onto, into, or around the anatomical area of interest. This may be a nerve or it may be other tissues that the physician wants to apply energy to, such as electrical stimulation of nerves or currents to ablate certain tissues within the body. Once the injectrode material is placed into the body, it undergoes a transformation from its initial liquid, or moldable, form to a solid form within the body, essentially curing in-vivo. Around a week later, the patient would then return to receive the treatment, using an external signal generator unit to deliver the desired electrical signal to the intended target.”

The approach has already been put through chronic preclinical tests. “Our team is working diligently to get this technology out to patients as quickly as possible,” said Andrew Shoffstall. “The team recently received a $2.2m grant from the HEAL program at the National Institutes of Health. This work will greatly increase our ability to validate the safety and efficacy of the technology before we move into clinical trials.”

A paper describing the work was recently published in the journal Advanced Healthcare Materials.

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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