Galvani Bioelectronics, a joint venture of an American company, Verify Life Sciences (formerly Google Life Sciences), and a British company, GSK, is embarking on a relatively new method of treating diseases, by hacking into the human nervous system. The biotechnology company hopes to have treatments available within seven years.
During animal trials, Galvani patched into the nervous systems of test subjects to alter the way they signal the presence of glucose in the bloodstream. The nerves feed the data to the brain, which in turn raises or lowers the levels of insulin in the body. The idea is that such a patch could be used to treat type 2 diabetes, which occurs when the human body produces too little insulin to process blood glucose.
Another possible application would be a treatment for arthritis and other chronic pain conditions, turning off or even just turning down the pain signals, providing relief without recourse to medications.
In the future, people who are undergoing bioelectronics treatment would wear implanted devices that would control the signals their nervous systems send. These devices would be battery powered and would be customized to fit each individual.
The ability to not only turn nerve signals on or off, but to also control their strength and rhythm, has the potential to treat a whole host of diseases. Think of them as pacemakers for the nervous system.
Of course, the science of bioelectronics is brand new, sort of like genetic therapy was a decade or so ago. But it has the promise to change the way health care providers treat disease.
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