In an interview with MEDICA-tradefair.com Prof. Vasiliki Giagka talks about how microimplants work, why they are an alternative to drug therapies and how they could help paraplegics.
Prof. Giagka, you have developed a microimplant for stimulating nerve cells. Can you tell us more about it?
Prof. Vasiliki Giagka: My team and I are developing bioelectronic implants that interact with the body. Their predecessor is the pacemaker, which was developed as early as 1958. However, our implants interface with the nervous system and artificially stimulate it. But this is nothing new either. Cochlear implants or implants for deep brain stimulation work in the same way. These implants contain electronics that generate the stimulating impulses and are normally located inside a rather large hermetic case from which a long wire comes out. At the tip of the wire is an electrode that is placed near the part of the body that needs to be stimulated.
Our goal is now to develop particularly small implants – so-called microimplants. These can be placed near the organs or nerves that are to be targeted. There, small electrical impulses stimulate the nerve tissue.
What are the advantages over other implants or therapies?
Giagka: The difference to previous bioelectronic implants is that everything is contained in a single small unibody implant or node. We do not have the distributed arrangement of having the case at one point, the electrode at another point and a long wire that connects the two together. This makes them minimally invasive. They can also be operated in a network. Several of them can therefore be placed on the specific nerve or at different locations in the body and communicate with each other, exchange information and thus adapt the therapy. The doctor is also able to adjust the therapy wirelessly.
We would like to develop an alternative to conventional pharmaceuticals. A neuronal signal is transmitted in the body via either electrical or chemical pathways. Conventional drugs intervene in the chemical pathways. We are trying to intervene in the electrical pathways to enable a therapy that can be adjusted similar to a drug therapy, but without side effects. Drugs have side effects because they act on the whole body. But a therapy with a microimplant is local, reversible and free of side effects. This is also referred to as electroceuticals or bioelectronic medicines.