Engineers at MIT have developed flexible and implantable fibers that can deliver light to major nerves throughout the body. These fibers can send pulses of light to genetically manipulated nerves to inhibit pain. The purpose of these fibers is to be used as an experimental tool by scientists to study peripheral nerve disorders in animal models. Peripheral nerve pain, which affects more than 20 million people in the US, occurs when nerves outside the brain and spinal cord are damaged. Current devices used to study nerve disorders are made of stiff materials that limit movement, but these new fibers can adapt to natural motion. The researchers believe that their fibers can provide more precise information on nerve disorders. The study of these fibers could contribute to the development of new therapies for chronic pain and other peripheral nerve conditions. The development of these fibers is an extension of the optogenetics technique, which has been primarily used in the brain. The researchers overcame the challenge of motion by creating a soft, stretchable, and transparent fiber made from hydrogel. They tested the fibers on mice and found that they were still robust and resistant to fatigue even after two months of use. The fibers were also able to significantly inhibit sciatic pain in the mice. The researchers see these fibers as a new tool for studying pain and other peripheral nerve disorders. This research was supported by various funding sources including the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.
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