The OEPC electrostimulator could have multiple applications, in different parts of the body, and Rienmüller has tried out several cell types. For the moment the team is focusing on how the OEPCs could treat traumatic brain injury, an area where electrostimulation is already used. Current devices, however, are charged up via wires left sticking out of the person’s head. This is both uncomfortable and risks infection. The wireless nature of the OEPCs sidesteps these risks.
Consortium colleagues in the medical university of Graz have developed a rat model of traumatic brain injury to test the OEPC electrostimulation in vivo. “We want to use this model and look for improvements in response to stimulation,” says Rienmüller. Ultimately the team will test if OEPC electrostimulation improves motor function and learning. “We are really currently at the experimental stage,” says Rienmüller, noting that the project is not yet close to clinical trials in humans. “We're currently working on biocompatibility tests. So what happens to the devices there for a couple of weeks or months?”
The potential advantages offered by the device are intriguing. Other electrostimulation protocols use pulsed direct current or photo-thermal energy, which can damage cells. The OEPCs, on the other hand, provides highly focused stimulation, since only cells in direct contact with the device will be stimulated. “This is the least harmful ways of stimulating,” says Rienmüller. These advantages, along with the reduced infection risk offered by the wireless stimulation, could be a gamechanger.