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Global Biotechnology Insights
Posted on April 5, 2017 by  & 

Biology with an electrical edge

What is bio electronics

Bio-Electronics? The word broken down is Biology and Electronics. So then is Bio-electronics some sort of hybrid cross between Biology and Electronics? A love child of some sort? Well... not exactly. Defined: Bio-electronics is the integration of biological principles in electronic technology. What this means is that a biological component (cell, tissue, organ etc.) is coupled with an electronical component to create a device that can record, stimulate or block biological signals.

Bio-electronics: the beginnings

The term Bioelectronics was first proposed in 1968 but our modern day understanding of the field is much more recent. An old-fashioned definition of bio-electronics was: the intermolecular electron transfer found in biological systems. This is quite different than the present-day definition of bio-electronics mentioned earlier in the text. The pace maker is one of the first modern day defined bio-electronic devices. Such device is placed in the chest or abdomen to that aides in controlling abnormal heart rhythms. In this bio-electronic device the electrodes from the pace maker detects your heart's electrical activity and then sends the detected signal through the wires to a computer-like system in the generator. If your heart rhythm is abnormal, the computer system will direct the generator to send electrical pulses to your heart that mediate such abnormal rhythms. A curiosity and a need for a better understanding of the synergy between Biology and Electronics prompted Tony Turner, founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Elsevier journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics to create such a journal dedicated to the advances and research in the field of bio-electronics.

Bio-electronics research/ approaches

Since then, bio-electronics has become a popular field in research, catching the attention of scientists. For example, at the Feinstein institute for medical research in New York scientists in the bio-electronics medicine department are 'learning' the language of neural signals within the nervous system so that they can use these signals to identify disease or injury. Their approach is based on the principle that the nervous system uses electrical signals to communicate information through the body- controlling every cell and organ in the body. Scientist within this department come from backgrounds in the fields of neurophysiology, neuroscience, molecular and cell biology, and bioengineering. They use collaborative efforts to identify physiological triggers, develop new research tools and medical device technology to 'tap into' neural pathways in the body to treat disease and injury. This lab focuses on conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Paralysis, Bleeding/Hemorrhage, Sepsis, Cancer, Colitis, Crohn's Disease, Diabetes, Lupus, and Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome. Their goal is to incorporate the use of bio-electronics in the treatment and/or diagnostic of the aforementioned conditions.

Bio-electronics: the future and beyond

Bio-electronic approaches to disease management has many benefits in comparison to pharmaceuticals that are commonly used to treat disease. For example, inflammatory diseases are often treated with drugs that may bear adverse side-effects and often come with a lofty price tag. Bio-electronic devices on the other had would be more targeted and bear little to no health side effects in comparison. In a New York Times write up article Kevin Tracey of the Feinstein institute for medical research in New York is quoted saying that "I think this industry will replace pharmaceuticals". He may very well be correct, this past summer collaborators from the Feinstein Institute, Academic Medical Center/University of Amsterdam and SetPoint Medical announced clinical trial data showing that an implantable neuromodulation device improved symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. The future of disease management, treatment and diagnosis seems to point in the direction of bio-electronics. Such devices may triumph over the barriers that pharmaceuticals and gene therapy approaches seem to have. Bio-electronics, a love child of biology and electronics that seems to be making moves. Bravo.
Top image: DARPA

Authored By:

Technology Analyst

Posted on: April 5, 2017

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