Translating Discoveries into Effective Devices to Treat Pain


The Research Need

Opioids are a common treatment option for both acute and chronic pain. However, using opioids at high doses and for prolonged periods is a major factor in the development of opioid use disorder (OUD). Advances in technology show promise for reducing reliance on opioids through enhanced targeting and reduced invasiveness of diagnostic and therapeutic devices to manage pain.

About the Program

This program will foster the development of next-generation medical devices to diagnose and treat pain by supporting preclinical development and demonstration of safe, effective, and non-addictive device-based technologies and approaches. It will also support the translation of promising devices into clinical trials that will inform function, final design, safety, and/or efficacy.

Through this program, researchers will explore multiple avenues for treating pain caused by injury or disease. These avenues will include the use of implanted devices, such as electrodes, and noninvasive targeted stimulation of nerve cells and regions of the brain associated with pain perception, taking into account individual anatomical differences to increase efficacy. Researchers also intend to improve the efficacy of non-opioid medications by targeting delivery of these medications to a localized region of the brain. Findings from these studies could improve quality of life for millions of people in the United States who experience pain daily.

Program Details

To help facilitate the development of devices as viable alternatives to opioid treatments, through the Helping to End Addiction Long-termSM Initiative, or NIH HEAL InitiativeSM, NIH has awarded 15 grants to date to fund research on device-based treatments for pain. The awards total $35.4 million.

The research institutions and small businesses that received funding will develop and evaluate the safety and efficacy of device-based treatments for pain. Findings from these laboratory studies and clinical trials could help reduce the use of opioids to treat acute and chronic pain.

Research Examples

Translational Development of Devices to Treat Pain

  • Developing an injectable electrode to be inserted into the spinal cord to help treat chronic back pain
  • Increasing the number of potential users of spinal cord stimulators by better understanding how to create optimal stimulus patterns
  • Using image-guided technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or electroencephalogram (EEG), 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 minimally invasive stent to stimulate the spinal cord

Translational Devices to Treat Pain

  • Developing nanoparticles to encase ketamine, which will then be intravenously administered and uncaged using focused ultrasound in specific regions of the brain to treat chronic osteoarthritic pain while avoiding off-target effects

Clinical Devices to Treat Pain

  • Using deep brain stimulation to treat chronic low back pain
  • Using MRI-guided focused ultrasound to perform a mesencephalotomy to treat head and neck cancer pain
  • Using multisite, closed-loop deep brain stimulation to treat chronic neuropathic pain

  • Baylor College of Medicine – Texas
  • Carnegie-Mellon University – Pennsylvania
  • Duke University – North Carolina
  • Emory University – Georgia
  • Johns Hopkins University – Maryland
  • Micro-Leads, Inc. – Massachusetts 
  • Ripple, LLC – Utah
  • Stanford University – California
  • University of California, Los Angeles – California
  • University of California, San Francisco – California
  • University of Utah - Utah
  • University of Virginia – Virginia
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison – Wisconsin
  • Vanderbilt University Medical Center – Tennessee 

Funded Projects

Novel Implantable Device to Negate Post-Amputation Pain
Sep 30, 2021
Non-invasive Nonpharmaceutical Treatment for Neck Pain: Development of Cervical Spine-specific MR-guided Focused Ultrasound System
Sep 29, 2020
Home-based transcutaneous electrical acustimulation for abdominal pain
Sep 29, 2020
Deep Brain Stimulation of the Subgenual Cingulate Cortex for the Treatment of Medically Refractory Chronic Low Back Pain
Sep 29, 2020
A Double-Blind, Randomized, Controlled Trial of Epidural Conus Medullaris Stimulation to Alleviate Pain and Augment Rehabilitation in Patients with Subacute Thoracic Spinal Cord Injury (SCI)
Sep 29, 2020

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