Summary of the research programme of the Collaborative Research Centre ELectrically Active ImplaNts - ELAINE
European populations are ageing rapidly. By the year 2060, every third person living in Germany will be older than 65. For this reason, the social and socio-economic relevance of regenerative therapies is clearly increasing. This holds particularly true for implants: the older the population grows, the more medical implants for various indication areas are required and the more often they have to be replaced during the course of therapy. The research vision pursued by the Collaborative Research Centre focuses on novel electrically active implants. Specifically, we address implants employed for the regeneration of bone and cartilage, and implants for deep brain stimulation to treat movement disorders. Three central research objectives are a means to implement the research vision. The first objective is to establish innovative energy autonomous implants that allow a feedback-controlled electrical stimulation. Thus, we will pave the ground for new long-time medical applications, and individual patient treatment by conceiving an ultra-low power, miniaturised implant electronic platform supporting all electrically active implants being considered in ELAINE.
A second objective is efficient multi-scale simulation models to enable rapid progress in targeted implant improvements and patient-specific therapies. Here, new methods in the simulation of biomaterial compounds, electromagnetic stimulus of living cells and the validation of results will push the fundamental understanding in ELAINE far beyond the state of the art. The third long-term objective is to analyse the basic mechanisms of electrical stimulation in bone, cartilage and brain, and to translate this knowledge into clinical practice. The technical vision focuses on an energy-minimised electrical stimulator that is 12-weeks autonomous, fully programmable and implantable with continuous and intermittent modes for application both in humans and in animals. For this purpose, scientists from the fields of electrical engineering, computer science, mechanical engineering, material science, physics, biology, and medicine will work together in an interdisciplinary manner. As a unique characteristic, our interdisciplinary consortium enables a scientifically sound validation of newly derived theoretical models, computational methods and technical solutions through experiments in both engineering and the life sciences. This high-risk collaborative and interdisciplinary research programme is designed to demonstrate new approaches for future biomedical implants, hopefully increasing the chances of overcoming the above-mentioned health problems of ageing populations.