DARPA, on the back of the US governments BRAIN program, has begun the development of tiny electronic implants that interface directly with your nervous system and can directly control and regulate many differentdiseases and chronic conditions, such as arthritis, PTSD, inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohns disease), and depression. The program, called ElectRx (pronounced electrics), ultimately aims to replace medication with closed-loop neural implants, which constantly assess the state of your health, and then provide the necessary nervestimulation to keep your various organs and biological systems functioning properly. The work is primarily being carried out with US soldiers andveterans in mind, but the technology will certainly percolate down to civilians as well.
The ElectRx program will focus on a fairly newarea of medical therapies called neuromodulation. As the name implies, neuromodulation is all about modulating your nervous system, to improve or fix an underlying problem. Notable examples of neuromodulation are cochlear implants, which restore hearing by directly modulating your brains auditory nerve system, and deep brain stimulation (DBS), which appears to be capable of curing/regulating various conditions (depression, Parkinsons)byoverriding erroneous neural spikes with regulated, healthystimulation.
A state-of-the-art retinal implant and its controller/battery. Current implants are not particularly small things.
So far, these implants have been fairly big things about the size of a deck of cards which makes their implantation fairly invasive (and thus quite risky). Most state-of-the-art implants also lack precision the stimulating electrodes are usually placed in roughly the right area, but its currently very hard to target a specific nerve fiber (a bundle of nerves). With ElectRx, DARPA wants to miniaturize these neuromodulation implants so that theyre the same size as a nerve fiber. This way they can be implanted with a minimally invasive procedure (through a needle) and attached to specific nerve fibers, for very precise stimulation.
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While these implants cantregulate every condition orreplace every medication at least not yet they could be very effective at mitigatinga large number of conditions. Basically, a large number of conditions are caused by your nervous system misfiring most notably inflammatory diseases, but also potentially brain and mental health disorders. Currently, a variety of drugs are used to try and cajolethese awry neurons and nerves back in-line by manipulating various neurotransmitters but the same effect could be created with an electronic implant that catches themisfire, cleans up the signal, and then retransmits it.
DARPAs ElectRx program
The technology DARPA plans to develop through the ElectRx program could fundamentally change the manner in which doctors diagnose, monitor and treat injury and illness, says DARPAs Doug Weber.Instead of relying only on medication we envision a closed-loop system that would work in concept like a tiny, intelligent pacemaker. It would continually assess conditions and provide stimulus patterns tailored to help maintain healthy organ function, helping patients get healthy and stay healthy using their bodys own systems. [Read:Brave transhumanist pioneer self-implants a computer into his arm.]
Despite requiring a lot of novel technological breakthroughs, DARPA is planning to perform human trials of ElectRx inabout five years. The initial goal will be improving the quality of life for US soldiers and veterans though theres no word on which condition DARPA will focus on. Something simple like arthritis is most likely, but Im sure theres a lot of interest in curing/regulating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well. Earlier in the year, DARPA announced a similar program to develop a brain implant that can restore lost memories and experiences.
While DARPAs ElectRx announcement is purely focused on the medical applications of miniatureneural implants, there are of course a variety of other uses that might arise from elective implantation both for soldiers, but also for civilians. With a few well-placed implants on your spine, you could flip a switch and ignore any pain reported by your limbs, allowing you to push your body harder and faster. With precision-placed implants around the right nerve fibers, youcould gain manual control of your organs you could slow down or speed up your heart, turbo-charge your liver, or tweak just about any other function of your body. Transhumanism here we come.
DARPAs tiny implants will hook directly into your nervous system, treat diseases and depression without medication