Can you sense the change?

Bio-sensing, bio-interfaces, and bioelectric medicines promise to shake up diagnosis and treatment as we know it, but their potential has got someone worried …

From traditional treatment to the ultimate smart treatment

Severe diabetes may be tough: constant injections, a strict diet, and regular blood-sugar monitoring. One of the major causes of death in developed countries [1], it’s a problem that gets increasingly worse with time [2]. If the body can no longer produce or use enough insulin, its blood sugar will spike and can lead to serious health issues [3]. What’s more, diabetes often goes undiagnosed, resulting in untold damage to the heart, eyes, nerves, kidneys, and other parts of the body.

I’m a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to preventing and treating disease. However, over the past 50 years or so, this sneaky condition has kept me more than busy: with the number of diabetes patients on the increase [1], I’ve been putting in a lot of overtime …

As the competition arrived, it caught me completely off guard. These devices are smart, and can do my job without the need for needles or jabs. Tiny little helpers that monitor diseases, detect issues early, and treat chronic conditions as and where they occur in the body [1].

 A bioelectric tag attached to a man which collects data and speaks to the body.  A bioelectric tag attached to a man which collects data and speaks to the body.

Getting on your nerves? That’s the idea!

Sometimes small solutions are the key to big problems. In an ideal world, you wouldn’t be able to notice these little helpers at all, as it’s part of their job to be inconspicuous, while increasing the quality of life for millions of people. Take bioelectronic medicines for example, which are designed to help the body help itself. By “speaking the electrical language of the body,” they may trigger just the right nerves to regulate glucose or insulin production. Compared to conventional treatment, they may be far more precise, less expensive, and have fewer side effects – and all without needles or insulin shots!

While tissue-stimulating devices are nothing new (think pacemakers or cochlear implants for hearing issues), their latest miniature and minimally invasive descendants may target just the right points of the peripheral nervous system. By avoiding traditional treatment pathways like the stomach (pills) or bloodstream (injections), they deliver vital information right to where it’s needed: the affected organ.

But you know what’s even better? Sensing diseases before they can get serious. That’s where their diagnostic equivalents come in: patch-style, point-of-care (POC), contactless, or electronic-nose biosensors that can measure and transmit key parameters like metabolites, electrolytes, hormones, vitamins, minerals, DNA/RNA, or vital signs combined together giving new insights into your health. In short: anything that keeps us going or threatens to harm us. In the case of diabetes, blood-glucose levels may be monitored in real time and sent straight to the doctor for evaluation. So where do all these developments leave me?

  A girl running using bioelectronic technology to collect information   A girl running using bioelectronic technology to collect information

Learning the electrical language of the body

Just imagine the potential: implantable or on-body, bioelectronic devices that regulate a patient’s glucose metabolism. Programmed to read and correct the electrical signals of our nerves, they could soon become the go-to medical treatment for disorders varying from arthritis and asthma to hypertension and inflammatory bowel disease – with less intervention, greater therapeutic benefits, and fewer side effects. Knowing what your body is going through and providing personalized treatment to you!

Science is very close to making this vision a reality, but it takes constant research and cross-departmental collaboration to really push the boundaries of this exciting field. Biologists, engineers, material scientists, and doctors are already hard at work, broadening their horizons and exploring these exciting, new frontiers … in and outside our bodies.

If everything goes according to plan, these tiny helpers could be commonplace by the mid-2020s. It’s a true digital revolution for patients and one that has me scrambling for new opportunities. I’m a syringe, and thanks to new bio-sensing and bioelectronic therapy, my days in the treatment and diagnosis of diabetes and other serious conditions could be numbered.

You can’t stop progress, so I’m happy to retire and make way for the next generation of treatment. Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany has been active in this field for decades and is hard at work, defining a wide range of health solutions to improve disease-detection rates. With its unique three sectors serving electronics, health care, and life science, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany can enable this reality.

A pill- and injection-free future, which prevents disease and limits its effects?

We can imagine it. Can you?

[1] WHO. The top 10 causes of death. Available from: Last accessed February 2018.

[2] International Diabetes Federation. IDF Diabetes Atlas, 8th edn. Brussels, Belgium: International Diabetes Federation, 2017. Available at: Last accessed February 2018.

[3] WHO Global report on diabetes 2016. Available at: Last accessed February 2018.

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