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European Biopharmaceutical Review

Theory to Game Changer

Over the past decade, technology has transformed the world. From smartphones and shopping on-demand to selfdriving electric cars, technological advances have altered the way people manage their lives. Such breakthroughs often happened through convergence and gave rise to a new therapeutic class in healthcare known as bioelectronic medicine. The vision of bioelectronic medicine is to use electronic devices to detect and initiate biological changes. Bioelectronics has the potential to significantly impact a person’s wellbeing by giving doctors and patients better alternatives and going beyond the mediation of symptoms. Over the past years, this field has attracted investments from companies as GSK, General Electric, Google Life Sciences, and others. Pioneers are therefore convinced that electronic devices could one day result in a novel class of medicines.

When Electronics Meets Biology

Bioelectronics is an emerging field where technology and science converge. It is a new approach to treat and diagnose various diseases and injuries by using electronic devices harnessing the electrical language of the body. By using electrical pulses generated and delivered by external or implanted devices, hormone, and enzyme activity, aberrant or diseased processes can either be altered or corrected. One aspect of bioelectronics is the detection and characterisation of the electrical properties of biological matter. Another aspect is to interfere and treat diseases on the cellular and subcellular level by stimulating the body’s natural mechanisms. In general, the basic concept of bioelectronic medicine is relatively easy: electric currents create disease-fighting effects and trick the human body into healing.

The Evolution of Bioelectronic Medicine

Implanting or externally stimulating specific body parts with electronic devices that read and/or modulate electric signals often sounds like science fiction. Despite its futuristic connotation, the idea of using electrical stimulation to treat medical conditions is not new. Ancient Egyptians were already intrigued by electricity and used electric fish to control pain. On the other hand, electric rays, a group of fish that produce electrical discharge, were also used by the ancient Greeks. Here, electric shocks were used to numb the pain of childbirth and surgery and treat patients suffering from gout.

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Pascaline Vancraeyenest is Clinical Project Manager with Healtech, Magna Cum Laude graduate, and thesis prize winner of Biomedical Science at the KU Leuven in 2013. She obtained her experience by working as a doctoral fellow at the laboratory of neuro- and psychophysiology of the KU Leuven, where she collaborated with several worldleading institutions and universities. As the daughter of one of the pioneers in bioelectronic medicine and founders of Healtech, it allowed Pascaline to obtain a unique perspective on the impact of electronic devices in healthcare.
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