Digital health round-up: bioelectronics are closer than you think

Marco Ricci | Pharma Phorum | September 8, 2017

Bioelectronic medicine promises a new dawn in healthcare

Towards the end of last year, Google’s life sciences division Verily and GlaxoSmithKline co-founded Galvani Bioelectronics to develop medicines that harness electrical signals in the body to treat chronic diseases like asthma, arthritis and even gastrointestinal diseases. At the time, the unveiling of Galvani felt like a new frontier in medicine and, though somewhat difficult to comprehend, something that could genuinely change the lives of millions of people worldwide.

Marco RicciIn the time since Galvani’s launch, the excitement around so-called ‘electroceuticals’ has not abated. In fact this year’s Academy of Medical Sciences’ Annual FORUM Lecture – an event designed to highlight examples of the interface between academia, industry and healthcare – was dedicated to the subject. The lecture was delivered by renowned neurosurgeon and president and CEO of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, Professor Kevin Tracey.

The hour-long presentation described the journey to bioelectronic medicine, from Rene Descartes theorising on reflex behaviour in animals being caused by ‘animal spirits’ travelling through nerves, back in the 1600s, to the identification of the vagus nerve as a key modulator of the immune system’s role in chronic diseases. Tracey showcased a recent study of his own involving the modulation of the immune system in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In a group of patients with RA, a VNS Pulse, a small device developed by Cyberonics for the treatment of epilepsy, was implanted under the collarbone and connected to the left vagus nerve...