Cracking the neural code, treating paralysis and the future of bioelectronic medicine.
The human nervous system is a vast network carrying not only sensory and movement information, but also information to and from our organs, intimately linking it to our overall health. Scientists and engineers have been working for decades to tap into this network and 'crack the neural code' by decoding neural signals and learning how to 'speak' the language of the nervous system. Progress has been made in developing neural decoding methods to decipher brain activity and bioelectronic technologies to treat rheumatoid arthritis, paralysis, epilepsy and for diagnosing brain-related diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. In a recent first-in-human study involving paralysis, a paralysed male study participant regained movement in his hand, years after his injury, through the use of a bioelectronic neural bypass. This work combined neural decoding and neurostimulation methods to translate and re-route signals around damaged neural pathways within the central nervous system. By extending these methods to decipher neural messages in the peripheral nervous system, status information from our bodily functions and specific organs could be gained. This, one day, could allow real-time diagnostics to be performed to give us a deeper insight into a patient's condition, or potentially even predict disease or allow early diagnosis. The future of bioelectronic medicine is extremely bright and is wide open as new diagnostic and treatment options are developed for patients around the world.