A bionic approach to inflammatory bowel disease – Bionics Institute

A bionic approach to inflammatory bowel disease


Bionic technologies have the potential to treat a wide range of conditions and diseases that affect the organs of the body by modulating the activity of peripheral nerves through therapeutic electrical stimulation. The peripheral nervous system is the network of neurons outside the brain and spinal cord. Part of this system is responsible for the normal functioning of visceral organs and regulating their responses to changes in the internal environment.

Devices that modulate the activity of peripheral nerves to restore healthy organ function could replace the use of pharmaceutical agents and also manage conditions currently not treatable with traditional methods. This approach offers exciting possibilities for future treatments for inflammatory and metabolic diseases, as well as chronic pain.

Our Research

In 2015, we commenced an exciting collaborative project to create novel electrodes and stimulation strategies to treat bowel disease.

The incidence of inflammatory bowel diseases, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, is increasing, with a huge cost in direct health care as well as personal suffering. In Australia, there are approximately 61,000 people living with inflammatory bowel diseases and the distressing symptoms of fever, fatigue, abdominal pain and diarrhea.

A Melbourne-based team, led by Professor John Furness at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, aims to explore electrical stimulation of a major nerve supplying the intestine (the vagus nerve) as a means of reducing an inflammatory response.

The Bionics Institute, University of Melbourne, and Austin Health are project partners, contributing expertise in bionic device development, mathematical modelling and feedback control, and surgical knowledge, respectively.

The Bionics Institute is developing a safe and effective neural interface to constantly monitor the state of bowel inflammation and stimulate the vagus nerve accordingly. The ultimate aim of this project is to produce an intelligent (closed-loop), implantable neuromodulation device that reduces gut inflammation and associated symptoms.

Currently, the device is completing the necessary high level manufacturing and quality requirements, and is expected to commence a first-in-human clinical trial by the end of 2019.

Research team

Program leader:  A/Prof James Fallon,

Team members: Prof Rob Shepherd, Dr Sophie Payne, Mr Owen Burns, Mr Ross Thomas

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