Overactive nerves cause many chronic disorders, including heart failure, chronic pain, obesity, and bladder dysfunction. High-frequency electrical stimulation can shut down problematic nerve activity, but only after evoking an initial burst of firing – which can be painful or even dangerous – so its utility is limited. Heat or chill applied to the nerve is another way to treat neural overactivity, but typically only very low (<5oC) or high (>50oC) temperatures are effective, and these extremes can cause permanent nerve damage. In contrast, our new ThermalBlock method uses gentle cooling to shut down problematic nerves, which provides a safe and easy way to manage many types of chronic disease.

Technology Description

A small Peltier electrode is implanted in or around the nerve. Then a wirelessly-controlled, chargeable, and fully-implantable device can activate the electrode to heat or cool the nerve as desired. As opposed to traditional thermal nerve block technology – which applies a constant extreme heat or cold – our system achieves reversibility by briefly heating the nerve and then cooling it down only to room temperature (15oC). This gentler approach silences the nerve without causing any permanent damage. Testing in anesthetized cats indicates that our thermal block system is effective and safe for bladder control, but the design is sufficiently general that it could easily be applied to other chronic conditions.

Advantages

  • Completely eliminates nerve firing
  • Easy to implement
  • Safe for long-term application
  • Reversible

Applications

  • Chronic pain
  • Heart failure
  • Obesity
  • Bladder dysfunction after SCI

IP Status

A non-provisional PCT patent application was filed in December of 2016.

Stage of Development

Thermal block tested in vivo and an implantable device prototype is currently in development.

Notable Mentions

  • Pitt Center for Medical Innovation pilot funding, 2017 ($65,000)
  • Participated in 2017 Pitt Ventures First Gear program to help researchers bring technology to market