Imagine a situation where deadly diseases are treated with electronics instead of drugs. This is the objective of bioelectronic medication – to develop treatment methods using electrical impulses instead of conventional drugs.
For example, a person suffering from a chronic condition like rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension or diabetes visits a doctor. The doctor instead of prescribing drugs suggests an electronic device to be implanted in the body through a keyhole surgery. The implanted device will alter the electrical signal pathways providing relief from the disease.
This latest advancement in healthcare could be life-changing for people suffering from chronic conditions. Today, it may sound like a science fiction but within the next decade, this may be a reality.
Chronic ailments affect more than 2 billion people worldwide where bioelectronic medications can play an important role. Grand View Research estimates that bioelectronics/electroceutical market would worth $ 35.5 billion by 2025.
Mitigating the side effects of drugs:
To treat any disease, we take drugs. For chronic patients, this drug intake is on daily basis and obviously, they do not come without side effects. Managing side effects requires a different treatment course increasing the suffering of the patient instead of reducing it.
The president of Galvani Bioelectronics, Kris Famm is of the opinion that about 90% of efforts in developing a drug goes into preventing or mitigating possible side effects that it may have on the human body. Bioelectronics has the right solution to this problem. It targets electrical impulses to the nerves controlling a particular organ without disturbing the brain and circulatory system.
Bioelectronic medication – tapping the electrical language of our body:
This idea of tapping electrical impulses in treating long-standing medical conditions is not new. Think of pacemakers that send electrical impulses to the heart to rectify irregular heartbeat. These have been in use since last 50 years.
Electrical stimulation of the spinal cord to treat pain is also known but this is a part of the central nervous system. Bioelectronic implants work with electrical impulses of the peripheral nervous system, the nerves beyond the brain and spinal cord.
This innovative idea accidentally struck the neurosurgeon Kevin Tracey, the President and CEO of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, New York. He founded the company SetPoint Medical to conduct clinical trials of this electrical therapy and so far has found promising results in treating rheumatoid arthritis.
The pharma giant GSK has launched an ambitious plan of supporting 20 bioelectronics projects worldwide. It has also created a $50 million strategic venture capital fund Action Potential Venture Capital (APVC) limited. Its first investment would go to SetPoint Medical, California that is working on innovative bioelectronic medicines to treat rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.
How bioelectronic implants work?
That our body possesses a unique biological pathway known as the inflammatory reflex was discovered in 2002. It works to suppress inflammation whenever our nervous system sends such signals to our tissues and organs. But often, this reflex system goes awry causing a chronic condition.
There is a growing acceptance in the medical community that chronic inflammation is the root of many diseases and its advancement. Therefore, the possibilities exist to devise treatments for blocking this inflammatory process which is possible with bioelectronic implants.
In case of an injury or infection, the brain is quickly notified via the vagus nerve, which carries information from vital organs like heart, lungs etc. The brain also relays signals to curb the production of inflammatory molecules via the same vagus nerve to different organs.
But this signal does not work effectively in certain chronic conditions. These tiny battery-powered electronic devices can be used to tweak the signal pathways either by boosting or blocking the signals as required.
Bioelectronics to revolutionize personalized medicine:
Drugs are no doubt highly effective but all drugs do not work with the same efficacy with everybody. They act on chemical components of the nervous systems and affect the entire body system. Drugs take time for the effects to be realized, which are mostly irreversible.
On the contrary, bioelectronics act instantly on the targeted nerve and their effect is reversible. Moreover, fixing the right dosage for patients is often tricky involving few trial and errors. With bioelectronics, it is a more natural approach to treat ailments as it involves activation of the endogenous pathway.
The potential of bioelectronics application in personalized medicine is, therefore, immense. For example, it can target nerves that cause bronchial constriction and help in clearing air passages for asthma patients. It can even control food intake in diabetic patients by targeting nerves of stomach and pancreas and poke cells for insulin secretion as well.
It can be targeted to ovarian nerves for treating cancer and infertility. Bioelectronics can help in real-time health monitoring and check blood sugar levels and even detect early signs of stroke before its occurrence.
Challenges in bioelectronic medicine:
While everything seems to go in favor of bioelectronics, challenges remain in many areas.
- High precision nerve stimulation is required to accurately understand the electrical language of nerves.
- Minimally invasive approach for implantation
- Cost of the bioelectronic device
- Charging batteries of the bioelectronic device. It could be a wireless mechanism or through body movements.
In spite of the path-breaking advances, bioelectronic medication is not just ready to take off. It is likely to take more 5-7 years for the first bioelectronic medicine to be available in the market and may take much longer time to be accepted into mainstream medications. Experts perceive bioelectronics to be the game changers in pharma sector.