A cure for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and epilepsy may lie in computer technology and “imagineers.”
You heard me right. Microprocessors, circuitry, hacking: these are terms most of us associate with computers or sci-fi films/TV and Disney’s anamatronics. Post Steve Austin (The Six Million Dollar Man) and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, they are now part of the vocabulary of an elite team of medical researchers well on its way to controlling inflammation and pain associated with tragically debilitating diseases. This team is a funky combination of computer- and neuro-nerds. The ultimate Geek Squad.
According to a New York Times article from May 23, 2014 Dr. Kevin Tracey of Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, N.Y., a neurosurgeon whose mother’s death from a brain tumor decades ago inspired his devotion to research, is pioneering the trials, along with Pedro Irazoqui, a professor of biomedical engineering at Purdue University, and Jay Pasricha, a professor of medicine and neurosciences at Johns Hopkins University. Pasricha studies how nerve signals affect obesity, diabetes and gastrointestinal-motility disorders, among other digestive diseases.
We believe that bioelectronic medicine will open up a whole new front in our mission to control and reverse disease. Our goal is to have the first medicine that speaks the electrical language of our body ready for approval by the end of this decade.
The coolest part of all: this technology could replace drug therapy and its many undesirable side effects.
Housed in a pod shaped like a hot-dog bun and the size of a multivitamin, the entire microregulator is entirely self-contained — onboard battery, microprocessor and electrodes are integrated into a single unit. It can be wirelessly recharged, and adjusted and updated with an iPad app. The surgery to clamp it onto the vagus nerve will take about 20 minutes, and once in place, it will provide pain relief to a rheumatoid-arthritis patient for a decade or more before it needs servicing
What’s the down side? Instead of side effects like nausea, dizziness, dry mouth, etc. a person fitted with an electronic implant may be at risk of hacking by a maniacal genius who gets his kicks from manipulating your pain threshold. He would be a veritable puppeteer, pulling, not strings, but nerve endings by remote control.
As explained further in the New York Times article:
The biggest challenge is interpreting the conversation between the body’s organs and its nervous system, according to Kris Famm, who runs the newly formed Bioelectronics R. & D. Unit at GlaxoSmithKline, the world’s seventh-largest pharmaceutical company. “No one has really tried to speak the electrical language of the body,” he says.
Another obstacle is building small implants, some of them as tiny as a cubic millimeter, robust enough to run powerful microprocessors. Should scientists succeed and bioelectronics become widely adopted, millions of people could one day be walking around with networked computers hooked up to their nervous systems. And that prospect highlights yet another concern the nascent industry will have to confront: the possibility of malignant hacking. As Anand Raghunathan, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue, puts it, bioelectronics “gives me a remote control to someone’s body.”
Planting programmable pods inside our bodies that communicate data to our nerves, (different from pacemakers that stimulate muscles) to reduce pain and assist healing is simply mind boggling and wonderful.
One last (and twisted) thought: Somewhere there’s a sinister comic mastermind who would take this technology and remotely send electronic pulses, making his victims twerk like Miley Cyrus for his own amusement. He’ll partner with a hypnotist and twerkers will disrobe and stick out their tongues. That would be painful. Oops, I may have just given Eddie-The-Nutty-Professor-Murphy an idea.
by T.M. Burroughs
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