Gary Fedder: Electropharmaceutics: The Future of Therapy

We have amazing systems in our body to generate a variety of chemicals to help us with various diseases, or simply regulating our body functions. One of the areas that the government and industry has invested a lot in something called electropharmaceutics. And what that means is electrically connected to the body, to stimulate the body’s own systems that generate its own drugs for therapy. Imagine if you could, a probe that could effectively create the regulatory system that that patient has lost. It ranges everything from helping to connect to the brain for folks that have severed spinals chords. So they could have their thoughts translate into action. But also, therapy, for example, in pain relief, or for Parkinson’s, or obesity.

That’s the kind of thing that this technology could do. That’s harder than it sounds because, of course, you want to be minimally invasive in the body. We’ve been working on creating these very thin, compliant probes, and they survive and function in the harsh environment of the body. The probes we’re making are to electrically connect to neurons. Those neurons could be in the brain, so this would be a cortical probe, or the neurons could be in a peripheral nerve, that’s going to, for example, your internal organs.

To make a probe that can survive, it’s got to survive for decades. What we’ve done is created layering on top of the wiring that has to be really, really thin. Otherwise, it would crack, it would break. Alumina gives us the electrical insulation, and titania, is impervious to the salt solution. And remarkably, we can get electrical insulation that lasts for many, many years. The purposes are multiple. The first adoption of these is to connect up to the peripheral nervous system for therapy in the body. That could be helping with the body’s regulatory systems, it could be with helping with pain therapy. But down the road, who knows? We may have connectivity to the brain that can help augment our thinking, that can help our memory. I think that in the end, we’re certainly interested in how is this done ethically? How do we responsibly work on this type of research? But the foundational technology is really enabling this kind of vision for the future..

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