If bioelectronic medicine sounds futuristic, it’s because many of its applications operate like something out of a science fiction movie. But at its core, bioelectronic medicine is simply the use of technology to treat disease and injury.
Some applications include tools that you’re probably already familiar with, like cochlear implants and cardiac pacemakers. When these technologies were first introduced, they were considered revolutionary. While still important advancements, they are now commonplace instruments in a doctor’s toolbox.
Bioelectronic medicine can involve implanting a device that impacts neural signals which could impact a variety of inflammatory diseases from rheumatoid arthritis to Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and more. There is ongoing research into whether such stimulation could potentially impact paralysis as well. It can also be used as a way to assess and track diseases like diabetes.
As the field continues to evolve, newer applications in bioelectronic medicine continue to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Take, for example, Tumor Treating Fields, a therapy that utilizes the natural electrical properties of dividing cancer cells to treat cancer without many of the life-altering side effects associated with other traditional treatments.
Patients wear a device that creates electric fields tuned to specific frequencies to disrupt cell division, inhibiting tumor growth and causing affected cancer cells to die. The therapy, which you can learn more about on Novocure.com, received its first approval by the FDA for a specific type of aggressive brain cancer in 2011.
Clinical research on Tumor Treating Fields has continued, and the treatment shows promise in multiple solid tumor types – including some of the most aggressive forms of cancer. The therapy has been shown to have minimal side effects, with mild to moderate skin irritation being the most common side effect.
Bioelectronic treatments not only have the benefit of typically causing fewer side effects, but there is also room to improve the treatment through engineering.
“One of the benefits of having a device over a drug is we can continue to develop and improve the technology over time,” explained Eilon Kirson, Chief Science Officer and Head of Research and Development at Novocure. “We’re not locked into a chemical formula. The platform can continue to evolve.”
The field of bioelectronic medicine itself continues to progress, having only come into being in the late 20th century. With so much advancement made in such a short time, the promise of what may come in the future feels pulled straight from the big screen.