How Electricity Could Replace Your Medications

Photo credit: TEDMED

Electroceuticals, the use of tiny devices and electric impulses to diagnose and treat injuries is incredibly exciting. Bioelectronic medicine and with it, the vagus nerve (the longest nerve in the body that controls the physiology of many different organs) has moved to centre stage.

Neural signals are sent through the vagus nerve, moving towards and away from the brain to control our peripheral organs and our immune system and to prompt and control ‘inflammation’ in the body.

The potential to use bioelectrical devices to manage inflammation means that the source of many diseases is in our sights. The likelihood of using electroceuticals to treat heart failure, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and other debilitating conditions is generating a great deal of excitement in the scientific world.

Electroceuticals are a unique type of brain–machine interface (BMI) that could lead to improved treatments for a diverse array of inflammatory conditions and a new frontier in treating neurological disorders. With different neural sites in focus (e.g. the brain and the vagus nerve), ‘electroceutical’ devices are viewed as a future alternative to taking traditional medications for arrhythmia, epilepsy, depression and may also help those with impaired hearing and vision.

If electroceuticals can deliver significant therapeutic benefits with few complications, then the cost saving alone could see many people turn away from traditional drugs.

The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research is classed as the global centre for bioelectronic medicine and Dr Kevin Tracey featured in a TEDMed talk on this page is one of the world’s pioneers. Dr Tracey was inspired by the tragic death of a small child from septic shock to keep digging (for several decades) to find the centre of control for the body’s immune response. And he found it… a small cluster of neurons in the brain that control our immune response and the release of cytokines, which leads to inflammation.