With the advancement in medicine and nanotechnology, the capacity to target severe chronic diseases has expanded. This expansion has recently spread to graphene bioelectronics.
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Bioelectronics target nerve signals which are altered or dysregulated in the body using minuscule devices that are implanted to modulate electrical signals. However, with challenges such as the high-power supply needed for these devices to target specific disease characteristics, novel advancements in this field would significantly enhance patient care and quality of life.
Graphene bioelectronics, introduced by INBRAIN Neuroelectronics and its partnership with Merck, aims to provide a solution to overcome this power supply dilemma to target severe chronic diseases more effectively and efficiently. This article will explore how graphene bioelectronics can be used for a revolutionary advancement in therapeutics.
Next-Generation Graphene Bioelectronics
The Graphene Flagship spin-off company, known as INBRAIN Neuroelectronics, founded in 2019, has recently started collaborating with a leading pharmaceutical company, Merck, to develop the next generation of graphene bioelectronics. The INBRAIN Neuroelectronics company specializes in medical technology and digital health and aims to create the world’s first ‘smart’ neuroelectronic system using the novel material graphene.
The company’s collaboration with Merck relies on developing this novel bioelectronic technology for vagus nerve therapies targeted towards severe chronic diseases within Merck's therapeutic specialisms. The two companies aim to work synergistically to bring about this innovative therapy in the next few years to rectify the unmet need for those affected by brain disorders such as Parkinson’s or epilepsy.
While Merck is equipped for bioelectronic research with data science and clinical expertise, INBRAIN specializes in graphene development for the novel device and signal processing for medical applications.
With the Graphene Flagship being provided with a budget of €1 billion, this company truly represents technological research on an unprecedented scale. It is a Future and Emerging Technology Flagship by the European Commission, forming Europe’s largest research initiative.
The collaboration with Merck alone has illustrated the innovative partnerships the company is willing to undertake to shed light on further clinical applications using graphene bioelectronics.
The partnership will increase medical innovation and the advancement in graphene bioelectronics with initial work targeting inflammatory, metabolic, and endocrine disorders. Further advancements of this graphene device promise to enable a precise function with high modulation efficiency in the vagus nerve.
Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are the most common type of neural disorders and are rooted in the dysfunction of nerve cells in the brain over time. The consequence of the dysfunction and eventual death of these cells causes mental and physical symptoms in patients. With a lack of cure and insufficient methods in slowing the progression of the disease, the critical need for a novel treatment has increased.
Brain disorders are considered one of the most challenging conditions to treat. According to a 2010 study commissioned by the European Brain Council, brain disorders affect more than one-third of the population in Europe and cost approximately €800 billion per year.
Due to the high incidence of these neuronal disorders globally, there is a significant socio-economic burden on societies that demand more investments into innovative research and developing more effective diagnostic and therapeutic tools.
Importance of this Novel Therapy
The mission outlined by INBRAIN targets brain-related disorders through building smart devices around a graphene electrode which will have the ability to decode neural signals from the brain. The significance of this lies within these patients who have dysregulated neural signaling. This device would intake the signal from the brain and produce a therapeutic response that would be adapted to the patient's clinical condition.
This development in personalized medicinal therapies would be significant for patients suffering from neurodegenerative diseases, with a 2021 report from the Alzheimer’s Disease Association estimating the population of Americans with Alzheimer’s being approximately 6.2 million. The report also predicted the rise in Parkinson’s disease diagnoses to be around 1.2 million by 2030.
With the advancement in neurological treatments such as graphene bioelectronics that can be personalized to the patient's specific condition, the physical and mental symptoms presented by these patients may be significantly reduced.
Co-founder and CEO of Graphene Flagship partner INBRAIN Neuroelectronics, Carolina Aguilar, has commented on the partnership between INBRAIN and Merck Pharmaceuticals for this promising cause, stating that the companies’ “shared mission is to improve outcomes for these patients, who live with scarce information about their conditions and little control over their journey.”
This further illustrates the significance of a novel therapy such as graphene bioelectronics which will enable patients to have more control of their condition and retain their mobility and overall quality of life. Neurological diseases are distressing to patients who can lose motor function and become dependent on others for simple tasks, and so the development of this type of ‘smart’ therapy from INBRAIN and Merck provides hope for these patients to actively take back their autonomy.
Further Reading and References
Graphene-flagship.eu. 2021. Graphene Flagship spin-off INBRAIN receives €1M investment | Graphene Flagship. [online] Available at: https://graphene-flagship.eu/graphene/news/graphene-flagship-spin-off-inbrain-receives-one-million-euro-investment/ [Accessed 28 July 2021].
Graphene-flagship.eu. 2021. Graphene Flagship spin-off INBRAIN signs collaboration with Merck to develop next-generation bioelectronics | Graphene Flagship. [online] Available at: https://graphene-flagship.eu/graphene/news/graphene-flagship-spin-off-inbrain-signs-collaboration-with-merck-to-develop-next-generation-bioelectronics/ [Accessed 28 July 2021].
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. 2021. Neurodegenerative Diseases. [online] Available at: https://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/supported/health/neurodegenerative/index.cfm [Accessed 28 July 2021].