New technology could signal the future of medicine

ABC News’ Will Carr reports on new, cutting-edge bioelectronic medicine that holds promise for treating diseases like Crohn’s and Parkinson’s.
5:36 | 01/20/22

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Transcript for New technology could signal the future of medicine
- For many people with chronic illnesses, finding just the right treatment can be taxing and not always successful. But trials are now underway in the field of bioelectronic medicine with new technology that's offering patients some hope. Tonight, we hear from a few of those patients who have had some success with this treatment and doctors who say that, while it's still early, this could be part of the future of medicine. ABC's Will Carr has more. WILL CARR: This is Kelly Owens today, hiking the Koko Head Trail, a steep Hawaiian stairmaster. It's a mile and a half incline made for more than 1,000 steps. But this was Kelly just four years ago, in a wheelchair. - When I was 13, I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease and manifestations of inflammatory arthritis. I tried 22 different biologics and immunosuppressants, and none of them worked, which left me with progressively worse disease every year. WILL CARR: Out of options, Kelly discovered bioelectronic medicine. Learning about cutting edge technology that could help so she threw a medical Hail Mary, signing up for a clinical trial in Europe in 2017. - My husband and I sold everything that we owned, and created a fundraiser, and went abroad for six months. I was implanted with the vagus nerve stimulator on June 22 of 2017. And the device was turned on July 6. Within a matter of days, I noticed how much my pain decreased, and within a matter of weeks, the inflammation around my joints noticeably decreased, as well. WILL CARR: It wasn't just Kelly. Out of the study of 16 people, eight had meaningful clinical improvement, and four entered into remission. And within just a few years, the technology Kelly's been using has become less invasive. DAVID CHERNOFF: You put this around your neck once a week to charge it. So there's no wires. You can't see it, and you can't feel it. WILL CARR: David chernov is the chief medical officer of Set Point, which developed a vagus nerve stimulator. It's the size of a pill, inserted into a patient's neck, and delivers a small amount of electricity to the nerve. While the device is still in early trials, he says it's technology that could be used in the future to help patients like Kelly return to a sense of normalcy. - So there's about 1.5 million people in the US who have rheumatoid arthritis, and they have to take very expensive medications for their entire life to treat this because there's no cure for it. Our approach is different. There are many examples of bioelectronic medicine which are very successful, for example, in the context of Parkinson's disease, with movement disorders, tremors, and shaking. WILL CARR: Doug Bland was diagnosed with Parkinson's nine years ago. - Some of the classic symptoms like smelling, loss of smell, things like that where the key to linking me to having Parkinson's. WILL CARR: So Doug signed up for a Stanford Medical Center trial led by Dr. Peter Tass that asked patients to wear these bioelectronic gloves which Tass says are designed to help reduce tremors. - The goal is not to intervene in a harsh way, in an aggressive manner, but to do it in a very gentle, hopefully intelligent, and sustainable, and longlasting, way. - When the glove's turned on, you feel a wave of vibrations going back and forth between the fingers. Patients are initially wearing this for four hours a day, but over time, that drops to just a couple hours a week. - The advantage here is that the anatomy is super well-defined. So in other words, the electrical signals we are causing by means of our vibrations really reach the desired brain areas and only those specific brain areas. WILL CARR: Doug was among eight patients enrolled in a pilot study, which found that stimulation from the gloves led to significant improvement in patients' motor performance. Doug says thanks to the gloves, his strength in level of activity has improved. DOUG BLAND: I did a marathon race within a couple of months after I started the glove therapy, and bystanders who knew me noticed that I was standing up straighter, and I was running with a little bit more of a steady stride. WILL CARR: Christine Williams battles allergies. CHRISTINE WILLIAMS: I can't breathe, my eyes are watery, and it's just so painful. I've got headaches, and it's just, you know, it's a tight feeling. WILL CARR: So she started using Clear Up, a device cleared by the FDA to treat allergy symptoms by using electrical stimulation over the sinus area. CHRISTINE WILLIAMS: I started noticing, I think, really, the difference after like a few days. WILL CARR: Clear Up is already on the market. For the vagus nerve stimulator and the gloves, there are still more clinical trials to be done to ensure the devices are safe and effective enough for broader use, putting FDA approval likely a few years away. And doctors have this advice for anyone interested in participating in trials for these types of devices. DORIS WANG: I think just managing your expectations. You know, obviously, everybody wants the best outcome possible. And just realize you any type of, at least surgical, interventions, there are risks involved. WILL CARR: And even though it's still early, some doctors see real potential benefits. DORIS WANG: I see bioelectronics as the way of the future in medicine. With the technological advances that are present, it gives us an unprecedented opportunity to actually investigate a lot of the biological systems that's harder to access. WILL CARR: But Kelly Owen, she says the new technology has helped her climb a mountain. She feels from here on, the sky's the limit. KELLY OWEN: I never would have imagined that my life could be as limitless as it is now. WILL CARR: In the Bay Area, Will Carr, ABC News. - Our Thanks to Will Carr for that.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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