Pharma and Tech Giants Team Up to Design Devices That Can Hack Your Body’s Electrical Signals

Akshat Rathi | Nextgov | August 1, 2016

Electrical signals from the brain govern much of what goes on in the human body. Pharma and tech giants are spending big money to figure out how to hack these signals, a burgeoning field known as “bioelectronics.” GlaxoSmithKline and Verily Life Sciences, an Alphabet subsidiary, are investing more than $700 million over seven years to create a new company, Galvani Bioelectronics. The firm, 55 percent owned by GSK, will have one lab in Stevenage, U.K., and another in San Francisco. The company will initially employ 30 scientists, engineers and clinicians.

Ever since we began making electronics small enough to put inside the human body, scientists have been dreaming up potential applications for health care, like pacemakers. But it is only recently batteries have become small enough, software sophisticated enough, and materials compatible enough with human anatomy to make varied and widespread applications a reality.

GSK laid out its bioelectronics vision in an article in Nature in 2013. Its target is the peripheral nervous system, which consists of nerves that extend from the spinal cord to every corner of the body. Applications to treat hypertension and sleep apnea using electrical signals have already been established. Verily Life Sciences used to be known as Google Life Sciences, but became part of Alphabet when Google restructured in 2015. It has previously made strides in wearable electronics, starting with a contact lens for diabetics...