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Under the microscope: bioelectronic medicine

This month: Bioelectronic medicine

What is bioelectronic medicine?

It is branch of science that deals with electronic control of physiological function, especially as applied in medicine to compensate for defects of the nervous system.

I think I need a bit more explanation…

Through a convergence of molecular medicine, neuroscience and bioengineering, bioelectronic medicine seeks to develop cures that don’t require drugs, or at least rely on them less heavily.

OK, understood. Has this been in the news?

Yes, researchers at Northwestern University and Washington University School of Medicine have developed an implantable, biodegradable wireless device that speeds nerve regeneration and improves the healing of a damaged nerve.

How does it work?

The device delivers regular pulses of electricity to damaged peripheral nerves in rats after a surgical repair process, accelerating the regrowth of nerves in their legs and enhancing the ultimate recovery of muscle strength and control.

Does it have a battery?

No. The device is powered and controlled by a transmitter outside the body that functions much like a mobile phone-charging mat.

Does it just stay in the body?

This is the clever bit – the device, which is size of a penny and the thickness of a sheet of paper, operates wirelessly for about two weeks before naturally absorbing into the body.

Why is that better than a normal implant?

It provides therapy and treatment over a clinically-relevant period of time and directly at the site where it’s needed, thereby reducing side effects or risks associated with conventional, permanent implants.

Has this been tested in humans?

No. But while the device has only been tested in rats at present, the scientists say their findings offer promise for a future therapeutic option for nerve injury patients.


Image credit | iStock

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