Rewiring the body’s circuits with implantable technology
Also known as bioelectronics, electroceuticals are implantable devices which alter electrical signals in the body. They are tube like cuffs containing electrodes, which – when attached to bundles of nerves – can change the signals sent to the brain, organs, and other body parts.
The next step in personalised medical treatment, electroceuticals can be used to record, stimulate, and block the neural signals which control our organs and limbs. Altering our electrical impulses in precise ways can give balance to organs producing the wrong amount of hormones, reduce inflammation, and even restore function to paralysed limbs. Crucially, the targeted operation of electroceuticals removes the side effects experienced with many modern medicines.
Although not yet available to human patients, it is expected that electroceuticals will arrive in clinical medicine over the next few decades. Central to their development is a greater understanding of the body’s nervous system – precisely which nerves control each function of the body. There are also a few design points which must be perfected before their widespread use. Electroceuticals must be easy to insert into the body via keyhole surgery, made from materials which do not corrode, and contain enough battery power to avoid the need for frequent charging.
Since 2012, pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline has been working on the development of electroceuticals. In 2016, it teamed up with Google’s parent company Alphabet to form Galvani Bioelectronics. Based in Stevenage, the company aims to develop implants that will effectively treat a range of chronic diseases, including diabetes, asthma and arthritis.
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