The peripheral nervous system constantly maintains and monitor your health. When the nerves here take on a disturbance, such as from an infection, they trigger an automatic response in the central nervous system to activate the self-healing in the site of infection. However, when this natural flow of signals is disrupted, the nerves produce a pain signal or lead to autoimmune diseases. Through the Electrical Prescriptions (ElectRx) program, the Defense Advanced Research Agency (DARPA) aims to address this problem. ElectRx is as much about finding the science needed to maintain good health as it is about understanding the mechanisms that make it possible.

The Goal

Seven teams of researchers are working to find a way to artificially modulate the nerves so a healthy signal flow can be maintained for self-healing, with the hopes of being able to prescribe “therapeutic stimuli” upon diagnosis. While they still have to demonstrate the science needed to achieve this, DARPA hopes to proceed to clinical trials as an alternative to traditional treatments for chronic pain and inflammatory disease. Elisa Konofagou, team leader and professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia University, is looking into ultrasound as a form of neuromodulation which can be applied non-invasively and can be focused at different depths.

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