Technology continues to advance the concept that “medical miracles” can become mundane. Advancements in electronics, including biosensors, actuators, and artificial intelligence, can potentially speed the healing of burns, blast injuries, and other devastating wounds frequently suffered in combat.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) – which collaborated on inventions such as the internet—is seeking developers in AI and bioelectronics to assist in its Bioelectronics for Tissue Regeneration (BETR) program. Solutions will stimulate wound-healing processes in real time to optimize tissue repair and regeneration.
Blast injuries, burns, and other wounds experienced by service members often catastrophically damage their bones, skin, and nerves. Patients face months to years of recovery for the most severe injuries and often settle for imperfect results. DARPA believes that recent advances in biosensors, actuators, and artificial intelligence could be extended and integrated to dramatically improve tissue regeneration.
Recent technologies have begun to close the loop between sensing changes in a wound – such as a high temperature indicating infection—to stimulating treatment. To date, these systems have been limited to monitoring changes induced by bacteria. For BETR, DARPA intends to use any available signal, be it optical, biochemical, bioelectronic, or mechanical, to directly monitor the body’s physiological processes and then to stimulate them to bring them under control, thereby speeding healing or avoiding scarring or other forms of abnormal healing.
“Wounds are living environments and the conditions change quickly as cells and tissues communicate and attempt to repair,” Paul Sheehan, the BETR program manager, said in a release. “An ideal treatment would sense, process, and respond to these changes in the wound state and intervene to correct and speed recovery. For example, we anticipate interventions that modulate immune response, recruit necessary cell types to the wound, or direct how stem cells differentiate to expedite healing.”
DARPA is currently in the process of soliciting proposals for the BETR project and prefers not to discuss electronics and other details at this time, a DARPA spokesman told EETimes. The organization does not want to bias any potential responses, the spokesman added.
The global bioelectronics and biosensors market is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 9.6% over the next five years, according to Global Info Research. Worldwide, revenue is expected to reach $26,100 million by 2023.
The envisioned BETR technology would represent a sharp break from traditional wound treatments, according to DARPA, and even from other emerging technologies to facilitate recovery, most of which are passive in nature.