This nerve-blocking treatment could treat asthma and heart failure

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[Image from NIHCD on Flickr]

Electrical nerve-blocking implants could help treat asthma and heart failure, according to new research from Case Western Reserve University.

Niloy Bhadra and Kevin Kilgore, professors of biomedical engineering and orthopedic surgery respectively, have been working on the nerve-blocking research since 2000. The research blocks unwanted generation of nerve impulses in a variety of clinical applications.

The technology is currently being used commercially for pain management by Neuros Medical in Willoughby Hills, Ohio. Bhadra and Kilgore are now building upon that technology to focus on creating a reliable, rapid, gradable and reversible nerve block for the nervous system.

The electrical block could be used as an alternative to surgery or drugs to reduce pain and calm nerves. In the new research, the team uses electrical stimulation to keep bronchial tissue from constricting in asthma patients and to control nerves after cardiac failure.

The researchers are using a combined waveform of AC/DC currents across different timeframes as a treatment method. Before now, AC electricity was known to cause pain while DC could cause nerve damage.

“DC is the headache, because if you do it wrong, there’s not only pain, but you can damage the nerve,” Jesse Wainwright, a research professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Case Western Reserve and researcher on the project, said in a press release. “Historically, that’s why people said DC is not safe, but we’ve developed a way to do it safely and accurately.”

Pain management could also see a boost with the nerve-blocking research and could reduce the prevalence of prescription pain killers.

“After knee or hip-replacement surgery, for example, patients now are sent home with some powerful drug packs,” Wainwright said. “But our electrical nerve block could be implanted for a week or two to provide the same pain relief. That might eliminate the need for those drugs and possibly reduce the chance to become addicted to heavy narcotics.”

Researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles and Johns Hopkins University will also be a part of Bhadra and Kilgore’s research.

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