Galvani Bioelectronics Aims to Take Nerve Treatments Beyond the Pill

Electricity has a longstanding role in the practice of medicine. Defibrillators, for example, use electricity to shock the heart back into a normal rhythm. Now pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline is teaming up with Verily, a life sciences startup spun out of Google, to take the use of electricity in medicine even further beyond the pill. Both entities are jointly investing $715 million over the next seven years to learn how bioelectric devices can be used to treat chronic diseases, according to Technology Review. This new company will be called Galvani Bioelectronics.

The idea behind these tiny electronic devices is that the electronic signals that they produce can block or alter the signals passing through nerve fibers. Doing so will make it possible to affect signals from the brain, which in turn could control the organs at the end of these nerves and have the effect of treating disease, Technology Review explains.

These bioelectronic devices will be considerably smaller than the current slate of electronic treatments, such as defibrillators. Verily executives tell Xconomy that the first line of biolelectronic devices will about half the size of a sugar cube. Ultimately, the goal is make these devices even smaller, perhaps about the size of a grain of rice. Despite their small size, these devices would have a lot of capabilities. They would also have sensors to read the nerve signals of patients and interpret them, Xconomy explains. They would be self-powered with tiny, rechargeable batteries that would be strong enough to deliver the necessary electric charge to affect nerve signals.

The technology still needs to be tested in clinical trials, of course. But GSK explained to Reuters that it expects the first of these tiny electronic devices will be submitted for regulatory approval within seven years. So far, the technology has only been tested in animal trials. But if it works, it would offer a novel way of treating nerve conditions in patients.

“We have some promising results in animal tests, where we’ve shown we can address some chronic diseases with this mechanism,” Kris Famm, head of GSK’s bioelectronics research and Galvani’s president, told Reuters,” and now we are bringing that work into the clinic.”

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CATEGORY: Healthcare
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