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A New Take on Electric Shock Therapy

Over the past several decades, health care has benefited from the development of pharmaceutical drugs. The rise in the use of these drugs has greatly contributed to the higher standard of care and longer life expectancy that our society now enjoys. However, these drugs are not always without flaws. Some times, unintended and possibly harmful side effects arise as the result of the drug interacting with areas of the body that it was not supposed to interfere with, as molecules can't find their targets with 100% accuracy. Fortunately, as described in the New York Times article "Can the Nervous System Be Hacked," by Michael Behar, alternative treatments that avoid some of these side effects might not be far away. 

Behar, in his article, introduces us to the exciting world of bioelectronics. He begins with the origins of the movement in the lab of Kevin Tracey, and describes the recent successes of the field, as well as where the field can one day lead us. The idea that he chronicles of a world where people walk around with networked computers hooked up to their nervous systems and treating physiological irregularities sounds like something straight out of a science fiction novel, but he shows us the science that backs it up. He tells of how chronic inflammation related diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease can be treated by shocking the vagus nerve with a specific intensity at specific intervals using a small implant. These treatments are said to have the same positive results as pharmaceuticals while avoiding the side-effects associated with pharmaceutical drug use, not to mention the debilitating financial burden that patients take on to pay for their drugs. Aside from chronic inflammation related conditions, scientists believe that bioelectronics will one day be able to treat a range of conditions including hypertension, diabetes, and even cancer. 
The article also points out an important weakness of these implants. While the idea that we can harness the incredible power of our own nervous system to treat diseases is alluring, the same technologies could be electronically hacked to gain control of the systems that keep us alive. It is terrifying to imagine a world where hackers are not limited to stealing our credit card information and social security number, but able to change the regulation of our nervous systems. 
Jack Kent. Summer Research Intern
Read more about the exciting field of bioelectronics from the original article at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/25/magazine/can-the-nervous-system-be-hacked.html



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