Ultrasound technology may be a newfound key to treating neuropathy, according to recent research from the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. A group of scientists has discovered that the collection of nervous system disorders can be targeted by ultrasound waves aimed at peripheral body parts, like fingertips, to activate new paths to the brain.
William Tyler, the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute assistant professor who led the study, explained that he and his team wanted to create a way to activate mechanical and thermal receptors, both deeply and on the surface, either individually or in combination. This would be opposed to traditional devices used for neuropathy treatment, which are small mechanical devices that externally vibrate the skin, and which Tyler believes are now archaic. His goal is to give physicians diagnostic tools with more precise ability.
In his study, volunteers’ heads were hooked up to fMRI and EEG machines while their fingers were placed on ultrasound transducers. Tyler and his team, meanwhile, found that by altering the ultrasound waveforms, they could stimulate particular avenues of somatosensory activity.
These findings have important implications for pain diagnosis, Tyler believes, and could lead to even broader applications beyond neuropathy treatment.
Tyler noted that ultrasound transducers would be able to be formed into flexible but level insoles for those who have lost sensation in their feet – this would benefit, for example, elderly people who may have lost sensation and are prone to falling down. Additionally, the surgical instruments could give a tactical response to in-training surgeons, or else be developed into everyday consumer electronics.
The next stage is to investigate the correlation between specific ultrasound parameters and their respective nerve fibers. Further down the road, Tyler is hopeful that he can work with patients who have pre-neuropathic Type 2 diabetes, and branch out into an analysis of how the brain registers pain.
Neuropathy, a clump of nervous system disorders, affects roughly 20 million people in the United States alone. Type 2 diabetes is often a key trigger, along with various autoimmune disorders like lupus, traumatic nerve injury, genetic abnormalities and infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Lyme disease and leprosy.