Along with using her engineering expertise to develop cutting-edge diagnostic tools for use in health care, Jennifer Blain Christen is also venturing into new forms of treatment. Moreover, the associate professor of electrical engineering is entering an entirely new field of medicine — electroceuticals.
“This emerging field aims to electrically stimulate the nervous system to eliminate or reduce the need for pharmaceuticals,” explains Blain Christen, a faculty member in Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.
This approach treats diseases with the direct electrical stimulation of specific nerves, triggering self-treatment within the body, generally with the use of electrodes.
This method has drawbacks; one being it’s a broader form of treatment affecting more than just the targeted nerve, which presents unwanted side effects, notes Blain Christen. In addition, electrode stimulation is also invasive, cutting into the nerve to stimulate it.
To overcome this limitation, her project opts for a different method to stimulate nerves: light. Light can stimulate a nerve without cutting into and damaging it, and is more accurate than other stimulation techniques.
“The reason this is exciting is because you can target specific nerves, opposed to an entire bundle,” says Blain Christen.
Blain Christen has discovered she can target specific nerves with the use of flexible display technology, commonly found in flat-panel televisions. By wrapping a miniature flexible display around a nerve, she can beam light from numerous pixels to intersect at one point, generating enough light to stimulate a response.