Not only the US military wants to make an Iron Man suit, they also want to give the soldiers the same self-healing powers of the Wolverine, the Marvel superhero that can accelerate the healing of injuries and chronic diseases. DARPA calls the project ElectRx. Their description is fascinating.
ElectRx (pronounced “electrics”) aims to develop new, high-precision, minimally invasive technologies for modulating nerve circuits to restore and maintain human health. ElectRx technologies are also expected to help accelerate scientific research aimed at achieving a more complete understanding of the structure and function of specific neural circuits and their role in health and disease. Potential targets include recently identified circuits involved in regulating immune system function, providing new hope for treating a range of inflammatory diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, systemic inflammatory response syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. ElectRx is also expected to improve peripheral nerve stimulation treatments for brain and mental health disorders, such as epilepsy, traumatic brain injury (TBI), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression.
According to DARPA, these devices will accelerate the patient’s recovery from injuries by modulating nerve signaling and constantly monitoring the patient response to the treatment. DARPA program manager Doug Weber says that “the technology DARPA plans to develop through the ElectRx program could fundamentally change the manner in which doctors diagnose, monitor and treat injury and illness.”
Instead of relying only on medication — we envision a closed-loop system that would work in concept like a tiny, intelligent pacemaker. It would continually assess conditions and provide stimulus patterns tailored to help maintain healthy organ function, helping patients get healthy and stay healthy using their body’s own systems.
As the official science blog for the US Department of Defence says, the concept is not new. There are devices that use neuromodulation to treat some diseases like chronic inflammatory diseases, but they produce side effects because their imprecision, they are too big for use on the field, and they require surgical implantation. DARPA says that their ElectRx “seeks to create ultraminiaturized devices, approximately the same size as individual nerve fibres, which would require only minimally invasive insertion procedures such as injectable delivery through a needle.”
Of course, don’t expect these devices to magically close a bullet injury just yet. For now, they are aiming at accelerating healing and solving chronic diseases. But it’s certainly a step to get to the Star Trek-level stuff that everyone on Earth would like medicine to be.