Harnessing the electrical language of the body to treat disease

Bioelectronic medicine is a vision far from today’s medical practice. But we believe that one day, tiny devices, smaller than grains of rice, could be used to restore health in a range of chronic diseases centred on organs and biological functions.

These devices would be programmed to read and modify electrical signals that pass along nerves in the body, including irregular or altered impulses that occur in association with a broad range of diseases. The hope is that through these devices, disorders as diverse as inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, asthma, hypertension and diabetes could be treated. We believe bioelectronic medicines could allow us to treat these with greater precision and fewer side effects than with conventional medicines.

Treatment of medical conditions with electrical impulses has been used in the past – from cardiac pacemakers to deep brain stimulation in Parkinson’s. But existing devices target large areas of tissue indiscriminately, rather than honing in on specific groups of neurons within circuits. We believe that recent scientific advances have made it possible to control specific sets of neurons, which create potential to develop more precise bioelectronic medicines.

But we don’t believe we can succeed in this field alone. We recognise that experts across a range of disciplines need to work together. Unlike more traditional areas of science, bioelectronics requires the combined skills of world-leading physiologists, engineers, neuroscientists and informatics experts. That’s why we’re seeking to grow and integrate a research network that will become a new bioelectronics community.

We describe the research we’re doing in bioelectronics as like learning a new language – the electrical language of the body. Through learning to read and write the electrical signals that travel between the brain and the body’s organs, we believe we can open up a whole new frontier in treating disease. It may sound like science fiction, but we’re edging closer to a future where precision electronic therapies sit alongside the medicines and vaccines we use today.

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