Don't pull my plug!

A good article in BusinessWeek online about the progress being made in implanting devices in the body to regulate body functions and treat some otherwise untreatable conditions. They’ve come a long ways from the first pacemakers and much more is ahead–including drug administration devices for diseases like cancer.  The big hangup? You guessed it…cost.

Forty-five
years ago, doctors successfully implanted a cardiac pacemaker for the first
time in the U.S., providing long-term hope for millions of people with heart
disease and creating what has become a hugely profitable — and still
fast-growing — $10 billion-a-year business. Now, electrical therapy may be
approaching an historic transition. Using advances in pacemaker technology,
researchers and doctors are finding that rapid-fire bursts of low-voltage
electricity can alleviate symptoms in an astonishing number of illnesses in
many other parts of the human body. Scourges such as depression, post-stroke
paralysis, migraines, sleep apnea, angina, obesity, tinnitus, and digestive
tract disorders all may be treated with neurostimulators by the end of the
decade. If early-stage experiments pan out, Alzheimer’s disease,
obsessive-compulsive disorder, Tourette’s syndrome, bulimia, and other brain
ailments could be next….

A next
step would be to link sensor-laden neurostimulators to miniature drug pumps. In
this way, a patient could be dosed exactly when needed and at the precise site
where the medication is most effective. Researchers say this could reduce
dosages by a thousandfold and avert side effects. Such systems would also
enable a patient to be treated with bioengineered drugs and proteins too large
to be absorbed by swallowing a pill. The combined therapy seems most promising
in the brain, where many disorders might be tackled with protein drugs
complemented by electrical pulses.

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