Wearable Health Technology: Whats the Next Step?
Is getting on someone’s nerves the best way to treat a headache?
Apple and Samsung have both announced a growing range of apps and devices that track any number of health issues from how many calories you’ve burned to how your heart rate and blood pressure are doing. These kind of apps are about to take the healthcare market by storm and many will be integrated applications which can feed back information on your health directly to your doctor – thereby bringing peace of mind to some chronically ill patients.These health apps are likely to be launched with your Apple IOS 8 software upgrade.
But hey there’s more! Monitoring is one thing but some of the really clever innovation on the horizon uses electrical stimulation of nerves with portable hand held devices to treat headaches, epilepsy and other conditions.It now looks like a new range of electrical appliances may well assist as well as replace traditional pharmaceutical preparations and the race is on. The big pharma companies have already jumped on this technology with Merck & Co in the USA and GSK in the UK spending millions of pounds in research to develop medicines that speak the electrical language of the body. Small nerve stimulator implants have been used for several years now to help epilepsy suffers moderate or eliminate seizures. Such devices placed on the vagus nerve in the throat have also been show to help in a range of other problems such as depression, asthma and chronic heart failure.I remember the vagus nerve from studying biology at University. However, it first came to my attention as a child when my brother in one of his “I want to do marshal arts” moments reliably informed me that a specific type of karate chop to the neck would render me unconscious. Luckily it was never put to the test. But it was apparent to me then that this nerve which arises in the brain stem and extends all the way down the abdomen was a phenomenally powerful influence on the body.Stimulating the vagus nerve with small electrical impulses helps control the production of glutamate (a neurotransmitter). It appears that by stimulating the nerve with particular types of electronic pulses the production of glutamate is varied thereby providing pain relief for migraine sufferers or altering other nervous reflexes. Studies so far from US company ElectroCore are small in number but promising.Meanwhile in the UK GSK have made £50 million available to fund research into this therapeutic area.
The vision is to create technology that helps everything from coaxing insulin out of cells to help diabetics, regulate appetite or even treat rheumatoid arthritis.
So it could really be that when you say something is getting on your nerves, it actually IS having a positive effect!