The ElectRx program aims to establish a new biomedical, therapeutic capability to improve physical and mental health by using targeted stimulation of the peripheral nervous system to exploit the body’s natural ability to quickly and effectively heal itself.
The nervous system plays a vital role in maintaining all aspects of physical and mental health. A sophisticated network of sensory nerves continuously monitors health status and triggers reflexive responses in the brain and spinal cord when an infection or injury is detected. These reflexes normally adjust organ function to initiate and control the healing process. However, some diseases can disrupt healthy functioning of these processes and produce nerve signaling that causes pain, metabolic disorders such as diabetes, and autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis. DARPA seeks to establish the underlying science and develop the technologies that will enable artificial modulation of peripheral nerves to restore healthy patterns of signaling in these neural circuits to treat disease.
Specifically, ElectRx seeks to advance understanding of the anatomy and physiology of specific neural circuits and their role in health and disease. Fundamental biology efforts will set out to culminate in proof-of-concept demonstrations of feedback-controlled neuromodulation strategies to establish healthy physiological states. In parallel, ElectRx will seek to develop disruptive biological-interface technologies required to monitor biomarkers and peripheral nerve activity, as well as deliver therapeutic signals to peripheral nerve targets. Technology development will focus on chronic demonstrations of efficacy in biosensing or neuromodulation. Potential new approaches include in vivo, real-time biosensors and novel neural interfaces using optical, acoustic, electromagnetic, or engineered biology strategies to achieve precise targeting with potentially single-axon resolution.
Coupling improved physiological understanding with these disruptive technological capabilities could lay the foundation for future systems to manage many acute and chronic conditions through precise, real-time, closed-loop neuromodulation. If successful, this capability would reduce dependence on traditional drugs and create new treatments that could be tuned automatically and continuously to the needs of individuals without side effects.
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