Translating Discoveries into Effective Devices to Treat Pain


The Research Need 

Opioid misuse is a major factor in the development of opioid use disorder. Advances in technology show promise for identifying new, safer pain management options to improve quality of life and reduce reliance on opioids. Innovative technology designs may also reduce side effects compared to medication-based strategies. Several effective devices for pain have already received approval or clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

About the Program 

This program fosters the development of next-generation medical devices to diagnose and treat both pain and opioid use disorder. The research supports preclinical development and translational research efforts to advance promising technologies to readiness for testing in clinical trials.

The program also promotes development of groundbreaking, safe, and effective medical devices via the NIH Blueprint MedTech incubator program. This program supports and de-risks the development of medical devices targeting nervous system disorders, including chronic pain and opioid use disorder, from early development stages through first-in-human clinical trials.

Another focus of the program is to support interdisciplinary team science and academic-industry partnerships to understand how medical devices work to relieve pain. This new body of knowledge will uncover new pain biomarkers and optimize clinical approaches to enhance pain relief for patients.

Open Funding Opportunities

HEAL Initiative: Translational Development of Diagnostic and Therapeutic Devices (R18 Clinical Trial Not Allowed)
Aug 23, 2022
HEAL Initiative: Interdisciplinary Team Science to Uncover the Mechanisms of Pain Relief by Medical Devices (RM1 Clinical Trial Optional)
Apr 27, 2023

Program Details

To date, through the Helping to End Addiction Long-term® Initiative, or NIH HEAL Initiative®, NIH has contributed $51.5 million to fund this program, which has funded 18 awards.

Research Examples

Research examples supported by this program include: 

  • Developing an injectable electrode to be inserted into the spinal cord to treat chronic back pain
  • Using image-guided technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or electroencephalograms to aim focused ultrasound at specific brain regions to interrupt pain circuits related to chronic pain conditions, such as sickle cell disease pain
  • Developing a non-invasive electroacupuncture device to treat pain associated with irritable bowel syndrome
  • Developing nanoparticles for intravenous delivery of ketamine using focused ultrasound in specific regions of the brain to treat chronic osteoarthritic pain while avoiding off-target effects
  • Using MRI-guided, focused ultrasound to treat head and neck cancer pain
  • Using multisite, closed-loop deep brain stimulation to treat chronic neuropathic pain
  • Conducting a mechanistic clinical trial to uncover mechanisms underlying pain relief by transcutaneous auricular neurostimulation
  • Developing and validating pain-associated outcome measures in non-rodent mammalian models

  • Baylor College of Medicine – Texas
  • Carnegie-Mellon University – Pennsylvania
  • Duke University – North Carolina
  • Massachusetts General Hospital – Massachusetts
  • Micro-Leads, Inc. – Massachusetts
  • Novaflux, Inc. – New Jersey
  • Ripple, LLC – Utah
  • Stanford University – California
  • University of California, Los Angeles – California
  • University of California, San Francisco – California
  • University of Michigan – Michigan
  • University of Pittsburgh – Pennsylvania
  • University of Texas Medical Branch – Texas
  • University of Utah - Utah
  • University of Virginia – Virginia
  • University of Wisconsin–Madison – Wisconsin
  • Vanderbilt University Medical Center – Tennessee

Funded Projects

Translating an MR-guided focused ultrasound system for first-in-human precision neuromodulation of pain circuits
Nov 28, 2023
Point of Care Diagnostic for Sickle Cell Disease
Sep 28, 2023
POWS for NOWS: Using Physiomarkers as an Objective Tool for Assessing the Withdrawing Infant
Sep 28, 2023
Mechanisms of Action of Peripheral Nerve Stimulation for the Treatment of Chronic Neuropathic Pain
Sep 28, 2023
Understanding the Mechanistic, Neurophysiological, and Antinociceptive Effects of Transcutaneous Auricular Neurostimulation for Treatment of Chronic Pain
Jul 07, 2022

Closed Funding Opportunities

HEAL Initiative: Clinical Devices to Treat Pain (UH3 Clinical Trial Optional)
Sep 25, 2019
HEAL Initiative: Translational Development of Devices to Treat Pain (U18 Clinical Trial Not Allowed)
Sep 25, 2019
HEAL Initiative: Translational Devices to Treat Pain (U44 Clinical Trial Optional)
Sep 25, 2019
HEAL Initiative: Translational Devices to Treat Pain (UG3/UH3 Clinical Trial Optional)
Sep 25, 2019
HEAL Initiative: Interdisciplinary Teams to Elucidate the Mechanisms of Device-Based Pain Relief (RM1 Clinical Trial Optional)
Aug 31, 2021