Translating Discoveries into Effective Devices to Treat Pain


The Research Need 

Opioid misuse and overreliance on prescription opioids are major factors 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 device designs may also reduce side effects compared to pharmaceutical 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 pain by supporting preclinical development of safe, effective, and non-addictive devices and approaches – providing treatment options for those who have no other effective ways to manage their pain. The program also supports the translation of promising devices into early-stage clinical trials that inform the functionality, final design, safety, and/or efficacy of technologies. 

An additional element of this program is to support interdisciplinary team science to reveal mechanisms underlying device-based pain relief, toward identifying physiological markers of pain, and determine how existing device-based therapeutic approaches affect neural targets.

Open Funding Opportunities

HEAL Initiative: Interdisciplinary Team Science to Uncover the Mechanisms of Pain Relief by Medical Devices (RM1 Clinical Trial Optional)
Aug 01, 2022

Program Details

To facilitate the development of devices as viable alternatives to opioid treatments, and to advance promising technologies into clinical practice, the NIH Helping to End Addiction Long-term® Initiative, or NIH HEAL Initiative®, has awarded grants to fund research on device-based treatments for pain.

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 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 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 the phenomena underlying pain relief by transcutaneous auricular neurostimulation

  • Baylor College of Medicine – Texas 
  • Carnegie-Mellon University – Pennsylvania 
  • Duke University – North Carolina 
  • Johns Hopkins University – Maryland 
  • 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

From Nerve to Brain: Toward a Mechanistic Understanding of Spinal Cord Stimulation in Human Subjects
Jul 07, 2022
Understanding the Mechanistic, Neurophysiological, and Antinociceptive Effects of Transcutaneous Auricular Neurostimulation for Treatment of Chronic Pain
Jul 07, 2022
Defining Mechanisms of Pain Relief Associated with Dorsal Root Ganglion and Spinal Cord Stimulation
Jul 07, 2022
Novel Implantable Device to Negate Post-Amputation Pain
Sep 30, 2021
Home-based transcutaneous electrical acustimulation for abdominal pain
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
HEAL Initiative: Interdisciplinary Teams to Elucidate the Mechanisms of Device-Based Pain Relief (RM1 Clinical Trial Optional)
Aug 31, 2021