The field of bioelectronics is an amazing landscape. I may be elbows deep in this research everyday, but that doesn’t mean I’m not surprised at the way emerging technologies continue to transform patients lives everyday.
Take a look at this case study. For those of you who don’t read scientific journals for fun, here’s my readers’ digest summary.
This study follows a boy who started having epileptic seizures at the age of 12. A few times per week, he would experience seizures that would result in a headache followed by a loss of consciousness for a new minutes.
On top of that, the patient experienced daily seizures. His body would jerk uncontrollably or he’d zone out. At times, he’d make lip smacking noises.
For over five years, the patient took a host of different drugs that didn’t even address the brunt of his symptoms. Instead, the medication produced side effects that would make him feel tired, dizzy, uncoordinated, and weak. It’s arguable if any improvement was made in his quality of life.
Then, at 17, he underwent a brain surgery that ended up making his symptoms worse than before the procedure. Now, he’d experience seizures every hour of the day.
Now, instead of attending school, learning how to drive, and stressing out about how to ask a girl to homecoming; the patient was forced to drop out of school. He fell prisoner to his dysfunctional nervous system.
Fast forward to a brighter moment in his life. After an evaluation for treatment with vagal nerve stimulation, he was implanted with a medical device that essentially re-wired his brain.
And like magic, the boy returned to a normal state. His seizures retreated. He returned to school He focused on studying for his midterm tests.
What is vagus nerve stimulation? In short, the process delivers electrical impulses to the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve runs from the brainstem to the abdomen, and controls important functions like heart rate and the body’s digestion.
Just as an engine can be jump started back to life, the vagus nerve responds well to the application of electricity. And today, doctors are embarking on that path. The process entails that a device is implanted below the skin near the chest. A wire, connected to the device, threads directly to the vagus nerve, and applies electrical stimulation when prompted.
Neurostimulation has only been approved for a handful of indications yet the emerging technologies continue to grow at a rapid pace. The devices are getting smarter, the software is closing open loops, and we are moving towards a new direction. A future where a patient with a chronic neurological disease can receive an implant one day, turn it on the next, and essentially, forget about the disease. As long as the patient continues to charge the device a few times a week and continue to update it’s software, his symptoms will dissolve; the medication will be unnecessary; life will return to a high quality.
Today, we might marvel at the latest Pokemon Go program, but in the future, a device could rewire our brains for the better. It’s incredible, a bit scary, and 100% worth our time to research and implement this technology in greater detail.
If you’d like to talk more about this stuff or about what my team is doing in this space, please reach out. One of the things I love most is talking about the great science. Bioelectronics will change the way my parents age; how I age. During my lifetime, it’s safe to say that it’ll completely revolutionize how we think about disease, treatment, and the potential augmentation of the healthy state.
*As a disclaimer, this isn’t our study, and it’s not our device; this study has nothing to do with my team, except that we are all working towards the common goal of decreasing the burden of neurological diseases on patients
Another great resource if you want to learn more about neurostimulation is this click-through exercise that gives you a high level history and a short synopsis of where we are today.