By Allison Barrie, ,
Published November 10, 2017
Wounded warriors may soon have extremely miniature devices injected into them that can trigger the body to self-heal from invisible war wounds.
In the future, ElectRx tech could potentially detect the onset of disease. Once detected, the tech would immediately react and stimulate the peripheral nerves to restore health by course correcting the performance of the brain, spinal cord and internal organs.
This program could deliver an entirely new system to defeat post-traumatic stress, chronic pain, inflammatory disease, and other illnesses that may not respond to current and conventional treatments. It could revolutionize the way illness and disease are diagnosed and treated.
Currently “neuromodulation” is a last resort. ElectRx could make it the first thing and the only thing needed to restore health.
Approximately 20 veterans commit suicide every day, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. This is a much higher rate than civilians.
Invisible wounds from war such as post-traumatic stress, depression and chronic pain are believed to be contributing factors to this tragic loss of life.
The bastion that gave rise to life-changing innovations like the internet and GPS, DARPA, is seeking solutions.
DARPA’s brainboxes are turning their genius to solving the challenges of invisible war wounds. And they’ve enlisted other medical pioneering superstars from all over the country, drawn from academia and the private sector, to join them in finding solutions to PTSD, depression and chronic pain.
The program is called Electrical Prescriptions, or ElectRx. And they are determined to create groundbreaking miniature devices that will initiate self-healing of body and mind. This futuristic tech will use the body’s nervous system to restore and maintain health.
If successful, it could mean entirely new treatments for illnesses that replace the traditional go-to drugs. And even solutions for illnesses that have no current viable treatment.
It is believed that much of the mental health and chronic inflammatory diseases involve abnormal activity in the peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system plays a central role in organ function.
If the nerve signals of the peripheral nervous system could be somehow monitored - and targeted – then there could be great potential to restore health without drugs or surgery.
Commandeering the human body superhighway
The peripheral nervous system is the body’s information superhighway. Motor and sensory signals constantly zoom through this superhighway communicating information regarding our health status. These signals play a role in triggering changes in the brain and other organs to maintain health.
A key part of this initiative is unlocking the mysteries of the body’s data superhighway – the nervous system. Experts are going to figure out specific neural circuits and their role in health and disease. The teams will map neural circuits and develop revolutionary bio-electrical interfaces.
The initiative will need to master how the nervous system regulates many aspects of our health. It will also need to develop the tech to measure and stimulate nerve signals.
ElectRx will be able to change lives by controlling the human body’s superhighway. DARPA will own the road and use it to restore health to our wounded warriors.
Here’s an example … neurochemicals regulate learning and memory in the brain. Peripheral nerve stimulation could be used to regulate neurochemical production. This could mean entirely new treatment options for post-traumatic stress and other mental health challenges.
How would it work?
The devices, called neuromodulation tech, will be so small they could be injected with a needle. They can both monitor and respond from inside the body.
Once inside the body, the ElectRx device would harness its advanced sensing and stimulating technologies to target specific peripheral neural circuits that control organ functions.
They would monitor the person’s health status and then intervene when necessary.
If intervention is required to restore health, then the device would deliver therapeutic patterns of stimulation tailored specifically for the patient.
A simple example of this sort of tech and approach is the pacemaker, which uses brief pulses of electricity to stimulate the heart to beat at a healthy rate.
ElectRx devices will do something similar, but for other organs, whether the stomach or the brain. This could even provide entirely new ways of treating inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
It may also even help to safely and reliably instruct the peripheral nervous system to fight disease.
DARPA has selected seven teams of researchers. Here’s a nutshell on 3 of these exciting projects underway.
Defeating biomolecules to conquer depression
For depression, some research suggests that depression might be caused in part by excess levels of inflammatory biomolecules. Fighting inflammation with ElectRx may also provide new treatments.
Eliminating chronic pain with light inside the body
Circuit Therapeutics is working with optogenetic methods to treat neuropathic pain.
In simple terms, they are using a combination of gene therapy and a light device. By harnessing the power of light and targeting specific regions with it inside the body, they are hoping to put an end to chronic pain. They’re “transducing” the specific circuit and making exciting progress.
Ending PTSD using the neck
PTSD is when individuals are reminded of a traumatic event and feel anxiety and panic. Approximately 8 percent of the U.S. population will have PTSD at some point in their lifetimes, according to the National Center for PTSD.
A University of Texas team, led by veteran Robert Rennaker and Michael Kilgard, is using vagal nerve stimulation to induce neural plasticity for the treatment of post-traumatic stress.
VNS has already had success with depression. To reduce the fear response, they are using targeted VNS during exposure therapy. The vagus nerve is in the neck. They send a mild electric pulse through it and it relays data about the status of the body to the brain.