Ada Poon, a Stanford assistant professor of electrical engineering, is a master at building miniscule wireless devices that function in the body and can be powered remotely. Now, she and collaborators in bioengineering and anesthesia want to leverage this technology to develop a way of studying – and eventually developing treatments for – pain.
Chronic pain costs the economy $600 billion a year and the two most common treatments have significant drawbacks: narcotics are addictive and surgery is costly and carries considerable risks.
"What we will be able to look at is a more natural measure of pain relief," Poon said. They could assess whether a treatment allows mice to return to normal activities by tallying time spent on an exercise wheel or socializing.
This collaboration is one of 22 projects recently funded by the Stanford Bio-X Seed grants, which Carla Shatz, the director of Bio-X, calls the "glue" that brings interdisciplinary teams together. This project is typical, with an electrical engineer, a bioengineer and an anesthesiologist, all of whom are Bio-X affiliates, working together to solve a biomedical problem. Bio-X has so far brought together more than 600 interconnected faculty members from across campus.
"When you combine people with different skills you will come up with something with truly high impact," Clark said.
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Image: L.A. Cicero