Bioelectronics are electronic devices that are specifically used for biological or treatment purposes. Often this circuitry is used as an alternative or to complement medical treatment.
With certain medical issues, medication may not always be the best or easiest choice. There are many pharmaceutical treatments that can have side effects, and some could be unable to use this treatment. A benefit of bioelectronics is that they can be less invasive than the chemical counterparts.
Possibly the most recognisable bioelectronic device is a pacemaker. The surgically-implanted gadget sends small electric pulses through the heart to keep it beating at a steady pace. An Implantable Pulse Generator (IPG) inside the pacemaker contains the electronics and the lithium battery.
Electrocompulsive therapy is also currently used for the treatment of severe depression and other mental health conditions. Instead of being a permanent implant it is a procedure done under anaesthetic.
This kind of treatment could potentially help those who are unable to take the medication. The therapy sends pulses of electric current to the brain which may mitigate certain symptoms of mental health conditions.
The hope for the future is more conditions can be treated through bioelectronics, like Parkinson’s and epilepsy. Bioelectronics being used for inflammatory conditions, spinal chord injuries and Crohn’s disease are all areas of interest.
A recent innovation has been the use of electronics that imitate skin. Polymer structures and transistor arrays that are flexible and can stick to human skin are currently in development. This could soon be used to extract data from the skin like pulse and blood pressure. The current alternative is gathering this data via a blood test, which is invasive and not instant. Further along the line, the prosthetic ‘skin’ is hoped to help mastectomy patients restore sensation to surgery sites.
These tiny electrical stimulators could even work in harmony with medicine. Electroceutical treatments could deliver targeted doses of medication to precise sites in the body. The administration method could limit the adverse effects to the rest of the body and could be customisable depending on the patient.
Electroceutical treatments have the potential to be controlled through smart devices. As with other electrical applications, an electronic device could be controlled through a phone or laptop. If this was possible, dosages, or current, could be changed with a more immediate effect than with drugs.
Electronic skin and other innovations are still in the early stages of research and development, and won’t be widely available any time soon. But with the line between electronics and pharmaceuticals already being crossed, we can expect the two industries to become a lot more intertwined.