Researchers from Northwestern University have signed a contract with the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency valued at US$33 million (AU$42.5 million) to create a wireless implant device capable of altering the human body’s circadian clock and potentially “cure” jet lag.
Dubbed NTRAIN (Normalising Timing of Rhythms Across Internal Networks of Circadian Clocks), Northwestern University will be joined by an entire team of experts from Rice University, Carnegie Mellon University, as well as US biotech company Blackrock Microsystems.
The sci-fi-esque device will be no larger than the size of your thumb. Uniting synthetic biology with bioelectronics to engineer the same peptides we produce to regulate sleep cycles on the fly – meaning no need for refills, either. The chemicals are released into the bloodstream on-demand, altering the state of an individual’s circadian rhythm, while simultaneously allowing real-time monitoring via smartphone.
“You would tell your smartphone how many hours you want to shift and it would sense your current phase,” says Professor Jonathan Rivnay, Northwestern University Biomedical Engineer.
“Then it would figure out a schedule of when to deliver the cues to have the greatest effect in shifting the rhythm.”
Once the cells are exposed to light, the implant reportedly generates “precisely-dosed peptide therapies”, providing your body with exactly what it needs at the right time, and effectively recalibrating the old c-rhythm according to the time zone. The initial goal is to reduce jet lag recovery time by half, eventually removing jet lag from the travel equation entirely.
“The experiments carried out in these studies will enable new insights into how the internal circadian organisation is maintained,” explains Professor Fred Turek, Northwestern University Neurobiologist.
“These insights will lead to new therapeutic approaches for sleep disorders as well as many other physiological and mental disorders.”
“We are effectively building the bridge between biology and bioelectronics (and) the potential is limitless,” says Professor Florian Solzbacher, Co-Founder & Chair of Blackrock Microsystems.
“Imagine if we can use this platform to treat other neurological disorders?”
If all goes to plan, real-world applications may also include combatting food poisoning.
The NTRAIN jet lag cure / circadian rhythm altering implant is to be developed across the next four-and-a-half years (human trials scheduled for the post-development period).