Imagine a world where chronic diseases and other medical needs could be treated with electrical signals in the body. Researchers are hoping to make this a reality by utilizing bioelectronic medicine, an emerging branch of life sciences.
Arthritis, asthma and diabetes are some of the illnesses bioelectronic medicines could help treat by utilizing miniature bioelectronic implants smaller than a grain of rice. These implants can modify nerve signals to the body’s organs. According to GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), “Bioelectronic medicine is a relatively new scientific field that aims to tackle a wide range of chronic diseases using miniaturized, implantable devices that can modify electrical signals that pass along nerves in the body, including irregular or altered impulses that occur in many illnesses.”
In August 2016 it was announced that GSK was partnering with Verily Life LLC (formerly Google Life Sciences) to form Galvani Bioelectronics, which will be focused on the research and development of bioelectronic medicine. GSK hopes research will lead to bioelectric implants being much more precise, and could allow doctors to pinpoint circuits at specific intervention points in the peripheral nervous system, according to Engineer and Technology Magazine. The first prototypes could be ready within seven years.
Electric signals control much of the processes that occur in the human body. However, chronic diseases can disrupt the flow of these signals. Bioelectric medicine could allow researchers to understand the electrical conversation occurring in the body and analyze these signals in a person suffering from a chronic disease. This advancement could offer an alternative to treating chronic diseases with solely medicine.
This concept is not totally new, however. Parkinson’s disease is sometimes treated by deep brain stimulation (DBS) to reduce tremor, walking problems and other symptoms. According to Parkinsons.org, DBS works by inserting an implanted medical device called neurostimulator, which delivers electric signals from targeted areas of the brain. DBS is only used for patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease who cannot control their symptoms with medication. However, there are unpredictable risks to DBS including seizure, infection, stroke and device complications.
Currently, researchers are also looking at the possibility of bioelectronic medicine being used to stop internal bleeding. How exactly would this work? A portable device placed on the body would pass an electrical current through the patients’ body. This would stimulate the vagus nerve, which then triggers the spleen. The spleen is triggered to “release blood-clotting platelet cells and send them to areas in need,” according to Popular Science.
All over the world researchers, scientists and academia are coming together to make individuals lives better through continued improvement and discovery –we see these incredible advancements quite often; and are excited to see where the world of medicine takes us in the future.