Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Arlington, VA, United States (4E) – The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) continues to pursue a revolutionary program aimed at curing diabetes without the need for medicines, and to search for ways to make the central nervous system (CNS) heal the human body.
Begun three years ago, DARPA’s Electronic Prescriptions (ElectRX) program has the goal of finding ways to stimulate the CNS to the point it will readjust body metabolism and reduce or eliminate the need for medication. This result is achieved through a familiar therapy called “neuromodulation.”
In wide use since in the 1980s, neuromodulation, or therapeutic neuromodulation, is defined by the International Neuromodulation Society as “the alteration of nerve activity through targeted delivery of a stimulus, such as electrical stimulation or chemical agents, to specific neurological sites in the body.”
In appropriate patients, neuromodulation can help restore function or relieve symptoms that have a neurological basis.
ElectRX aims to reduce the time, logistical challenges and side effects of traditional medical treatments for a wide range of physical and mental conditions commonly faced by troops in combat. It seeks non-drug treatments for pain, inflammation, anxiety, trauma and post-traumatic stress, exploiting and expanding the key role the CNS already plays in maintaining physical and mental health.
The focus of ElectRX at this point is developing non-invasive treatment, external stimulation rather than surgical implants. Earlier research has shown better results with placement of electrodes closer to the problem area, rather than at the main trunk of nerves, the neck.
Diabetes is part of the program because it’s believed to be a particularly ripe target for bioelectronics. Type 2 diabetes has been treated for what it is, too much glucose in the blood, rather than what is causing it. The operating theory is the CNS is the root cause of insulin resistance, and can be prompted to change.
The three year-long DARPA program is worth up to $2.9 million to GE Global Research in Niskayuna, which has a three-year DARPA contract to do the work. GE’s goal is to demonstrate a system that holds the promise of an effective non-invasive treatment with fewer side effects than drugs.
DARPA is interested because blood glucose levels are a direct indicator of trauma patients’ recovery, said Victoria Cotero, who is a member of the bioelectronic medical research team at GE Global Research. The higher the blood glucose a wounded soldier’s glucose, the worse his medical complications are likely to be, especially with an infection.
The bioelectronic diabetes project will support the interests of GE Healthcare, and could create new business opportunities.
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