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Bioelectronic Medicines: Controlling The Nerves Could Treat Chronic Diseases, Scientists Say

Aug 02, 2016 04:49 AM EDT
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Stimulating the nerve cells could help treat chronic diseases, scientists say.

Scientists from Galvani Bioelectronics are working to develop electrical implants that stimulate the nervous system and other parts of the body to treat diseases, and plans to have treatments ready by 2023.

The bioelectronics company is a joint venture between GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Alphabet's Verily, formerly Google Life Sciences.

"Bioelectronic medicine is a new area of therapeutic exploration," Brian Otis, Verily's CTO, said in a report by The Verge.

"We know that success will require the confluence of deep disease biology expertise and new highly miniaturized technologies."

Bioelectronics brings together electronics and biological research. While the new branch of healthcare covers different types of therapies, GSK plans to focus more on the development of electrical implants.

According to Moncef Slaoui, GSK's chairman for global vaccines, the new approach could bring innovative treatments that speak "the electrical language of the body."

"Many of the processes of the human body are controlled by electrical signals firing between the nervous system and the body's organs, which may become distorted in many chronic diseases," Slaoui said in a report by Fierce Biotech.

"Bioelectronic medicine's vision is to employ the latest advances in biology and technology to interpret this electrical conversation and to correct the irregular patterns found in disease states, using miniaturized devices attached to individual nerves. If successful, this approach offers the potential for a new therapeutic modality alongside traditional medicines and vaccines."

How it works

The research teams conducted experiments on animals where tiny silicone cuffs containing electrodes were attached around a nerve. A power supply was used to control the nerve's messages, BBC.com reports.

For instance, researchers suggested that the technique could help treat type-2 diabetes by blocking neural signals in the nerve of diabetic rats that increase type-2 diabetes. Through this process, the body's sensitivity to insulin is restored.

Kris Famm, GSK vice president for bioelectronics, told BBC that the approach was only "scratching the surface" when it came to determining which nerve signals affect the body. While the approach works theoretically, more studies would be needed before putting the technology into practical use.

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