SCIENCE
09/26/2014 02:18 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Military's Tiny Implant Could Give People Self-Healing Powers

If a tiny device could be implanted in your body to give you self-healing powers, would you want one?

That question is on many minds now that the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has announced that just such a device is in the works: an electronic implant, injected via a needle, that would monitor the health of internal organs and help the body heal itself when illness or injury strikes.

The implant -- being developed as part of the agency's ElectRx (pronounced “electrics”) program -- would “fundamentally change the manner in which doctors diagnose, monitor and treat injury and illness,” DARPA program manager Doug Weber said in a written statement.

“Instead of relying only on medication -- we envision a closed-loop system that would work in concept like a tiny, intelligent pacemaker," Weber continued. "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."

There's no word yet on when such a device might become available, but a spokesman for the agency said clinical trials might begin within five years.

DARPA says the ElectRx implant would work via a process akin to neuromodulation. That's the body's built-in biological feedback system in which the peripheral nervous system -- the nerves linking the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body -- monitors and regulates the body’s response to injury and infection.

DARPA says the implant could be effective against diseases ranging from rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease to epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression.

implant

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Neuromodulation devices aren't new. Some are being used to help patients with conditions like Parkinson’s disease and chronic pain. But DARPA says that unlike the anticipated ElectRx device, existing ones are bulky and imprecise and require invasive surgery to implant.

So far, public reaction to the ElectRx program has been mixed.

Some netizens lauded the news. “As a person with rheumatoid arthritis for 20 years I would volunteer for this in a hot minute,” enthused Facebook user Melody Peters this week after reading about the implant, LiveScience reported.

Other people expressed worries that the implant could be put to nefarious uses. As Facebook user Christine Golden asked, "Will it include an undisclosed ability to track those who receive one?"

What do you think of this self-healing implant? Weigh in below.

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