Are Patents Revealing the Beginnings of a Bionic Man?

Growth of Bioelectric Medicine

Earlier this month we reported on how bioeletronic medicine is rapidly increasing, as GSK and Verily formed an arrangement to establish a new UK-based joint venture, Galvani Bioelectronics. At the end of last week, we saw even more evidence of this high growth trend, as SetPoint Medical announced that it would be relocating to a much bigger facility, Mann Biomedical Park, Valencia, California. Anthony Arnold, CEO of SetPoint, confimed that the move was motivated by the ongoing transition of the business from a start-up to a world-class innovator in bioelectronic medicine.

Bioelectronic medicine is being driven by the need to administer targeted therapy within the body so specifically that it can mitigate all the side-effects. It was in the late 1990s that Kevin Tracey of the Feinstein Institute demonstrated how the vagus nerve, whose branches conduct nerve impulses to every major organ, had the potential to act as a ‘central interface’ to deliver commands to specific parts of the body.  

Exploring New Uses 

This discovery has been especially useful for developing therapies for inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis or Crohn’s disease, and the technology was licensed to SetPoint. Now, SetPoint is developing a proprietary neuromodulation platform, which consists of an implantable microregulator, wireless charger and iPad prescription pad application. The implantable device stimulates the vagus nerve to activate the body’s natural Inflammatory Reflex, which then aims to produce a potent systemic anti-inflammatory effect.

Therapy for inflammatory conditions has largely been focused on in the past. The latest research from Feinstein, in collaboration with the Stockholm-based Karolinska Institutet, is now suggesting the possibility of bioelectric treatments for hyper-tension and high blood pressure as well.

SetPoint’s use of an iPad as part of the prescription application – and the way in which it might be used to regulate or control various parts of the human system is revealing a future in which the boundaries between humans and computers are becoming ever more blurred. We see the influence in the latest patent applications relating to the subject too. For example, on September 8th, Co-Optical published a patent for a non-invasive bioelectric lifestyle management device. (US20160256086A1)


As the patent describes, “Figure One is a diagram depicting an example environment in which examples of non-invasive bioelectric lifestyle management can operate.” While this patent refers extensively to the monitoring of blood glucose levels, we can imagine this in combination with other sensors and wearables. The diagram shows how easily the human body could be integrated into the Internet of Things, with a whole range of human functions being centrally controlled by an app. So while we wonder about the potential for the future of robots and artificial intelligence to become like us, on the other hand we are gradually becoming part-human, part-machine ourselves.