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I’m sure you could guess who’s behind the current project to boost humans’ self-healing abilities. Yep, it’s DARPA, who else? Their ElectRx program “aims to explore neuromodulation of organ functions to help the human body heal itself.” DARPA’s idea, essentially, is for an implant that functions like a pacemaker, monitoring the body’s functions and providing whatever stimulus is necessary to improve them, particularly as it pertains to healing after an illness or injury.
The implant focuses specifically on the nerves associated with organ function, stimulating the peripheral nervous system via electric impulses, which then boosts that system and jumpstarts self-healing. The idea here is to veer away from drugs, surgery, and other conventional treatment options in favor of a “closed-loop system” that encourages a patient’s body to heal itself, rather than to rely on external agents. They want to integrate the implant into the body’s biological feedback system so the body becomes more adept at addressing illness, injury, and infection.
ElectRx is currently working on ways to influence nerve circuits, which involves gaining a better understanding of neural circuits, particularly as they pertain to health. DARPA’s PTSD-treating brain implant is an example of the same concept, but the process of implanting that device is much more invasive. ElectRx would be easier and less problematic to implant; the current plan is for the devices to be so small that they could be implanted via a needle right that the location of nerve endings that need stimulation. The device could help people with everything from rheumatoid arthritis to epilepsy to depression, and DARPA believes it could “fundamentally change” how doctors diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries.
While it seems like a great idea to help the body learn to heal itself more effectively and efficiently, there’s some skepticism about what it would mean to have a DARPA-developed implant. What about hacking or other privacy invasions such as tracking? I can’t say I’d be excited to have DARPA tech inside my body, but if I were a soldier, I might feel differently.
ElectRx is one of the DARPA programs designed to support Obama’s brain initiative. They received $50 million for their work on enhancing our understanding of the brain and designing technologies that leverage those insights. Of course, it would just be easier to ask the Terminator how he does it, but the whole point here is to avoid the scalpel, which I can definitely support.