DEC 09, 2016 07:18 AM PST

Electricity Could Help the Body Heal its Own Bleeds

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham
A group of inventive bioengineers are hoping to harness the power of electricity to plug up bleeds. The idea sounds farfetched, but it’s actually more science than science fiction.


The growing field of bioelectric medicine is based on the premise that electricity can power our systems. And if we can learn to harness this capability, we can treat and heal the body with electricity instead of drugs. Considering that the body has its own natural electrical currents in the heart and the brain, the idea of powering the body with artificial electricity doesn’t seem too odd.
 
For their study, the researchers at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research focused on bleeding. While tourniquets are often used to staunch heavy bleeding, the technique isn’t quite as effective for bleeding that happens internally. Surgeons can still tie off bleeds or cauterize the wounds, but these delicate tasks are complex and can leave room for scarring and other complications.
 

But what we can use electricity to kickstart the body’s natural clotting mechanism? The idea is called a “neural tourniquet” and it refers to stimulating the vagus nerve with an electric current in order to staunch bleeding.
 
“It’s a real leap of faith: ‘I know, we’ll stimulate a nerve to control bleeding!’” said Chris Czura, a vice-president of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, on the topic of neural tourniquets. “When you say this to surgeons, they look at you funny.”
 

But there’s a reason why this could work, and work well. The vagus nerve connects the brain to many major organs in the body. One of these organs is the spleen, which is where platelets that form clots would be released. Stimulating the nerve could speed up the clotting process that would otherwise take too long.
 
“[Vagus stimulation] grabs control of the mechanism the brain uses,” Czura says. “The body has this natural physiologic pathway to control bleeding, and this just ramps it up.”
 
The portable electrical device for neural tourniquets has only been used in pigs. But the results were promising: neural tourniquets reduced bleeding time by 40 percent, and cut blood loss by 50 percent. The same results, if attained in human clinical trials, could be life-saving in surgeries and in field emergencies.
 
As promising as it sounds, such electrifying device is still in its early infancy and has yet to be tested in human clinical trials. Still, the team is excited about the prospects of other healing applications for bioelectric medicine. It seems that once they map out the nerves and path of stimulation, the sky may be the limit to what electric stimulation can do. But first, we have to get there.

Additional sources: Popular Science, Business Insider
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
APR 25, 2018
Clinical & Molecular DX
APR 25, 2018
Why is dementia going unnoticed in hospitals?
A study in the UK showed that while the rate of diagnosis for dementia is improving, more than a third of all dementia patients still go undiagnosed. The n...
APR 29, 2018
Genetics & Genomics
APR 29, 2018
CRISPR Can Now Edit Genes Outside of the Cell
The CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing tool was made from an immune defense system used by bacteria. Scientists have found it has many applications....
MAY 10, 2018
Immunology
MAY 10, 2018
New Biomarker for Lung Cancer Diagnosis
Lung cancer is the most common cause of death from cancer for both genders and for people all over the globe. This is largely due to the lack of diagnostic...
MAY 24, 2018
Neuroscience
MAY 24, 2018
Can Brain Fold Patterns Predict Psychosis?
While it's a famous slogan and not meant to be taken verbatim, in neuroscience, it's often true that "Image is everything." A recent stud...
JUN 11, 2018
Clinical & Molecular DX
JUN 11, 2018
Nasal Brush Test for Asthma Diagnosis
Diagnosing mild-to-moderate asthma can be difficult to diagnose, especially when scientists need to rule out other respiratory disorders that have similar...
JUL 19, 2018
Microbiology
JUL 19, 2018
Mom's Microbiome has a Big Impact on Kid's Autism Risk
For many years, scientists have been trying to learn more about the causes of autism....
Loading Comments...