Bioethics News

These New Devices Promise to Fight Pain without Opioids

Terri Bryant was working at a cheese factory in 2000 when she injured the delicate, rubbery discs between her spinal bones. That was the start of her chronic pain. Two years later, she had back surgery and started regularly taking fentanyl, a powerful prescription opioid medication. Her pain persisted even after a second surgery in 2009.

In 2012, Bryant enrolled in a clinical trial for a device known as a spinal cord stimulator, designed to alleviate back pain. The experimental device was implanted under the skin at the base of her spine. When turned on, it sends pulses of a mild electric current to the nerve fibers in her spinal cord.

The therapy is known as neuromodulation or neurostimulation, and scientists think it works by interrupting the pain signals that are carried from the nerves to the brain. The idea has been around since the 1960s, but in recent years the technology has undergone rapid innovation. While drug developers are trying to discover new nonaddictive medicine to treat pain, medical device manufacturers are racing to develop smaller, more comfortable implants as well as external devices that don’t require surgery. The stimulator Bryant got, called the Senza System, is one of a growing number of medical devices to treat pain.

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Image: By courtesy of Massachusetts General Hospital and Draper Labs – http://www.darpa.mil/ddm_gallery/SUBNET_Final_1.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33279426

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.