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A Pacemaker for Your Digestive System

BioTx is developing tiny, wirelessly powered chips to treat digestive disorders and obesity

2 min read
A Pacemaker for Your Digestive System

BioTx, a company based in Palo Alto, Calif., founded by EE Ph.D. students Anatoly Yakovlev and Daniel Pivonka, recently did what in startup terms is called a “pivot." They're still planning to commercialize their Stanford research in electronic devices that can be implanted in the body and powered and controlled wirelessly. But a year ago they were focused on developing self-propelling chips that could swim through the bloodstream to get to where they needed to be, say, on the heart. About three months ago, they say they got a much better, or at least easier to commercialize, idea for using their technology. The chips they are now working to develop would be implanted in more ordinary ways, say, laparoscopically, would not help the heart, but rather help the digestive system. The chips can slow the emptying of the stomach, triggering feeling of fullness in obese patients, or do the opposite for people struggling with gastroparesis (delayed stomach emptying), a common side effect of diabetes. And patients could take advantage of the technology with a lot less risk than a gastric bypass. In the future, Yakovlev hopes the devices could also provide relief for patients with chronic conditions like irritable bowel syndrome and gastroesophageal reflux disease. The market, the company believes, is huge.

Sending chips “swimming inside the body is far off and risky,” Yakovlev said, “this is a more immediate need with therapies developed that have been proven to work.”

A number of researchers have demonstrated that electrical stimulation can act as a gastric pacemaker.  And researchers have been working on designs for such implantables, but no such device is yet on the market. 

BioTx, which announced its new focus at Stanford’s StartX Demo Day last week, is now working with researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Texas Medical Center, who will help them with animal testing and clinical trials.

Photo: a scene from the movie Fantastic Voyage. Credit: 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images

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Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic

Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

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