How Bioelectronics May Improve the Lives of Rare Disease Patients

The medical field is constantly evolving, and rightly so. We should never be complacent with things as they are when it comes to healthcare. There is always more to be done to improve patient care and overall wellbeing. In recent years, the most notable advancement has been gene therapy. Lesser known, but still just as novel, is something called bioelectronics.

Bioelectronics and Immune Diseases

Bioelectronics utilize the natural electrical system in the human body to improve health outcomes. For example, pacemakers, electrical stimulators to control seizures,  and others have had dramatic impacts in recent years.

But the newest use of bioelectronics is in the field of inflammation. For diseases that are controlled by biological circuits, implantable bioelectronic devices may be able to improve symptoms. Currently, research is being done for Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). There is also talk about investigating the devices for multiple sclerosis (MS), blindness, and spinal-cord injuries.

Precision Medicine

Before pacemakers were invented, scientists had to gain a deep understanding of the electrical pathways of the heart. Likewise, a deepened knowledge of electrical pathways relevant to other conditions is essential for developing bioelectronic treatments for them.

In addition, the more in depth understanding we gain, the more precise our treatments will become. For some diseases, the nature of pharmaceutical approaches means that the damaged site simply won’t be able to be precisely targeted. Bioelectronics could change this, and as a result, reduce side effects.  

One of the other benefits of this type of therapy is that adjustments can be made by algorithms. This can reduce adherence concerns while allowing patients to have more personalized treatment.

Hurdles

There are some hurdles which come with biotechnology as with all areas of medicine. First and foremost, is that much work must still be done in this field before it can be expected to have a widespread clinical impact.

Other hurdles can include-

  • Miniaturization
  • Decoding neural language
  • Making the device resistant to biodegradation
  • Regulatory approval
  • Pricing
  • Patient acceptance
  • Physician acceptance

Decoding neural language is one of the largest hurdles. We’ve made progress in the field, and scientists can now understand the electrical activity of thousands of neurons at a single time. However, the gastrointestinal tract has more than 100 million and the brain has over 100 billion. Clearly there’s more work to be done.  

The more we understand about the body and its complex systems, the better we will be able to create technology and therapies which can benefit patients. A holistic approach is necessary.

 Unfortunately, bioelectronics have a higher cost and higher upfront risk (because they require surgery) than many therapies, which may make commercial adoption more difficult. For that reason, researchers are first focusing on conditions which are already known to have a high unmet need.

Looking Forward

Overall, the scientific community is very excited about the potential of bioelectronics and how they might expand in the coming years.

This innovation is being compared to continuous glucose monitoring for diabetes. The impact for patients could be huge, and that’s why we need to keep studying.

You can read more about this new technology here.


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