Have you ever wished you could see where someone is hurting? Or better yet, turn that pain off at the flip of a switch?
Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are covering new ground on both of these fronts by implanting tiny LEDs under the skin to display where certain areas of the body are hurting.
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Furthermore, the so-called micro-LEDs, which are flexible and compatible with a person's body, could be wirelessly activated to block pain with the touch of a button.
The tiny devices represent an advance in the emerging field of optogenetics, which involves harnessing light to control cells.
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They came about when Robert Gereau, director of the pain center at Washington University in St. Louis teamed up with John Rogers, a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to develop a way to study circuits in the nervous system and spinal cord.
The scientists implanted the micro-LEDs in mice, whose nerve cells were genetically modified to be sensitive to light. The idea was that activating the light on those nerve cells could trigger pain or block it.
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To test whether this worked or not, the scientists directed the mice through a maze. When they walked through a designated area in the maze, the wireless device lit up and caused a mouse discomfort. But when the mouse left the area, the light shut off. Quickly, the mouse learned to avoid the painful part of the maze.
Now that the scientists know the micro-LED works, they'll continue testing ways to better understand how sensory information is processed in the spinal cord. Eventually, they want to develop a device that could turn off pain completely in humans.
via MIT Technology Review