Electrical stimulation as a therapy has been used for years. For the layman, one thinks of controversial treatments long in the past or in movies by crazy madmen. Despite the common views, electroceuticals, are very real and have exciting applications.
WHAT ARE THEY? Electroceuticals or bioelectronics are medical devices that are implanted in the body to target and stimulate the nervous system. The rice size devices modulate neural signals by connecting with peripheral nerves.
The peripheral nervous system is the body’s information superhighway, communicating a vast array of sensory and motor signals that monitor our health status and affect changes in brain and organ functions to keep us healthy. (Doug Weber, DARPA program head, 2016)
HOW ARE THEY USED? Electroceuticals are currently being used to treat epilepsy and depression by stimulating the vagus nerve. They are also used to treat arrhythmia through implantable cardioverter defibrillators. Studies are in progress to understand the effect on autoimmune diseases (i.e. Lupus, Crohn’s, and Rheumatoid Arthritis) and are further being explored in metabolic, cardiovascular, and inflammatory disorders.
WHATS THE MARKET POTENTIAL? This market is expected to grow to $35.5 Billion by 2025 (Grand View Research, Inc.)
COMBINING TOP RESEARCH. Along with electroceuticals immunotherapy, particular research with T cells and their numerous signaling pathways is rampant.
Research by Kevin Tracey (neurosurgeon at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research) uncovered T-Cells acting like neurons in the spleen (see Figure below).
1980s-1990s University of Rochester’s David Felten expanded the research finding similar neuron-T-cell synapses in the lymph nodes, thymus, and gut.
2014 Akiko Nakal, a neuroimmunologist from Osaka University furthered research by identifying “that sympathetic-nerve stimulation of T-cells limits them from exiting the lymph nodes and entering the circulation, where they might stir up inflammation in other parts of the body” (Fox, nature.com)
TRACEY’S RESEARCH – SCEPTICISM AND OPTIMISM. Lorton and Denise Bellinger (Loma Linda University) and Robin McAllen (University of Melbourne) have tried to recreate the vagus nerve stimulation T-Cell pathway identified by Tracey and have been unable to reproduce it in the Spleen. Bellinger along with other sceptics feel that Tracey’s findings show great potential as a foundation, however that the stimulation he found might have been acting indirectly through other nerves rather than the vagus nerve due to animal anatomy (there are roughly 100,000 individual nerve fibers in the human vagus nerve).
THE FUTURE. GlaxoSmithKline, Galvani Bioelectronics (Google joint venture with SetPoint), US National Institutes of Health program SPARC (Stimulating Peripheral Activity to Relieve Conditions) are only a few of the top pharmaceuticals exploring this technology. The potential to eliminate the side effects from chemicals and biologics as pharmaceuticals through electroceuticals is compelling and definitely worth further exploration.
Kim Buck | Lead Recruiter, Account Manager
Fox, Douglas (3 May 2017). The shock tactics set to shake up immunology. Nature.com
Maverick, Tim (10 May 2016). Electroceuticals: The Future of Medicine. Wall Street Daily.
PR Newswire (2 May 2017). Global Electroceuticals/bioelectric medicine market expected to grow to 35.5.billion USD by 2025. Markets.businessinsider.com.
Reardon, Sara (2 July 2014). Electroceuticals spark interest. Nature.com