When I heard the US military wants to make an Iron Man suit, I though wow, these guys are nuts and they will never pull that off. Now it looks like the military’s top R&D guys are taking things from realms of comicbookdom again and now they want to give soldiers the same self-healing powers of the Marvel character Wolverine.
DARPA calls the project ElectRx. And their own description of the technologies being used makes for interesting reading:
‘ElectRx (pronounced “electrics”) aims to develop new, high-precision, minimally invasive technologies for modulating nerve circuits to restore and maintain human health. ElectRx technologies are also expected to help accelerate scientific research aimed at achieving a more complete understanding of the structure and function of specific neural circuits and their role in health and disease. Potential targets include recently identified circuits involved in regulating immune system function, providing new hope for treating a range of inflammatory diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, systemic inflammatory response syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. ElectRx is also expected to improve peripheral nerve stimulation treatments for brain and mental health disorders, such as epilepsy, traumatic brain injury (TBI), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression.’
According to DARPA, the devices will accelerate the patient’s recovery from injuries by modulating the users’ nerve signalling and then constantly monitoring the patient response to the treatment. Doug Weber, DARPA program manager, says that “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.”
‘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 body’s own systems.’
But, the concept is not new. There are devices currently used that use neuromodulation to treat diseases such as chronic inflammatory diseases, but unfortunately they produce some side effects because their imprecision. These devices require surgical implantation and they are too big for use on the battlefield.
DARPA says ElectRx ‘seeks to create ultraminiaturized devices, approximately the same size as individual nerve fibers, which would require only minimally invasive insertion procedures such as injectable delivery through a needle.’
We don’t obviously think that these devices will magically close a bullet injury, but for now, they are aiming at accelerating healing and solving chronic diseases. But who knows where this will lead?
As always, if you would like to leave a sensible comment, then please do so in the comments section below.
[Image via Darpa.mil]