As this crowd knows, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, and though we’ve made great advancements to reduce morbidity and mortality in these patients, there is a desperate search for innovative new treatment strategies.
Traditionally, most chronic conditions are addressed with small molecule-based drugs that bind to their molecular target, exert downstream effects, and bring about therapeutic benefits. In severe cases, a visit to the operating room may be warranted in addition to a pharmacological treatment. For a heart attack, stenting and timely reperfusion remains the preferred emergency intervention.
Drugs and surgeries, though lifesaving and indispensable, are associated with off-target effects, invasive operations, and other negative complications. The ideal therapy would maximize positive patient outcomes and minimize any associated unpleasantries.
Electroceuticals, also known as bioelectronics, are a radical new approach to medical treatment that harness the power of electricity to safely and precisely treat an array of conditions, from sleep apnea to Parkinson’s disease. These are tiny devices that can be implanted in a patient to survey or modify nerve signaling in her body. The most familiar electroceuticals in clinical practice include defibrillators and pacemakers, but recent advances such as vagus nerve and spinal cord stimulation indicate that there is great potential for this field to be explored, expanded, and refined for cardiovascular disease applications.
A spark of interest is growing in the eyes of several industry leaders, and some have already devoted resources to the development and commercialization of bioelectronics medicines. Galvani Bioelectronics, the daughter company of GlaxoSmithKline and Alphabet’s Verily Life Science, is one such investment in the advancement of electronic medicine.
Basic scientists like me have much curiosity and some concerns. Among them, the neurobiology and molecular mechanisms of how electroceuticals elicit their effects are relatively unexplored in some fields. Such challenges call on an interdisciplinary community of expert scientists, engineers, and clinicians to focus their talents and push for solutions. Hopefully we will all be shocked (in a good way!) by the disruptive technologies this field will bring us in the future.
You can read further about Electroceuticals Spark Interest here.
Annie Roessler is a PhD Candidate at Loyola University in Chicago, IL. Her research focuses on the neurobiology and molecular mechanisms of electrically-induced cardioprotection. She tweets @ThePilotStudy and blogs at flaskhalffull.com