Subdermal analgesics – implanted painkillers

Paul Raven @ 19-05-2009

neural stimulator implantA pill for every ill? How very Twentieth Century! In the future, my friend, your chronic pains will be alleviated by tiny subdermal devices wired directly into your nerves, activated remotely beyond the body by radio signals from a master control device:

The device works similarly to spinal-cord stimulators for managing chronic pain. The idea is that the electrical jolts delivered by the device override the neural pain signals being transmitted to the spinal cord. However, the precise mechanism is not yet clear.

[…]

Like some cochlear implants and other medical devices, the implant is powered with radio-frequency transmission: radio waves transmitted by the external coil generate a magnetic field in the internal coil, which powers the electrodes. Adopting technologies from the rapidly advancing RFID world has allowed the researchers to further shrink the device.

Before rushing off to hassle your local medical practitioner for a set, however, bear in mind that this is still at the conceptual stage:

Researchers have developed a prototype device, which they are testing in rats. The device can effectively stimulate peripheral nerves in rats, although it’s not yet clear whether the electrical stimulation alleviates chronic pain. (Scientists assess chronic pain in rats by recording how much the animals eat; a rat in pain won’t eat as much.)

Assuming it works as expected, this could be a real life-changer for people suffering with chronic conditions. However, I don’t think it’s a wild leap of logic to assume that if nerve stimulation can be used to alleviate pain, it can probably be used to create it as well – maybe even with exactly the same set-up. It’s easy enough to hijack regular RFID tags, after all.

Thinking a little further, perhaps this technology would become part of the suite of telepresence devices. Rather than wear some sort of all-over suit, sensory stimulation from virtual worlds could be reproduced in the body by carefully timed and coded radio signals… which would make the perceptual line between reality and the metaverse that much thinner and fuzzier. [via grinding.be; image borrowed from Technology Review article under Fair Use terms, please contact for takedown if required]

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