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Scientists in several states are working on an implant to prevent jet lag

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Posted at 8:19 AM, May 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-24 11:19:06-04

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Researchers at the University of Utah are part of a national team working on an implant to control the body's circadian rhythm.

Scientists hope the wireless device, nicknamed the "Living Pharmacy," will cut in half the time it takes to recover from jet lag.

"It’ll be a small device that is implanted that can release peptides to change [someone's circadian rhythm] while at the same time being able to monitor the state of the patient," said Professor Florian Solzbacher, the Chair of the Electrical Engineering Department at the University of Utah.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the research arm of the Department of Defense, expressed interest in this project and signed an agreement with Northwestern University.

The initial users of the device would be military personnel who often travel across multiple time zones and first responders who switch between overnight and daytime shifts.

"Having the ability to have that sort of a device would help make that a little bit more comfortable or allow you to function better," Solzbacher said.

The team, which is led by Northwestern University, will focus on making the implant first before confirming it works as intended in a second phase.

If all goes well, researchers will then test the device in human trials.

Meanwhile, scientists at the University of Utah are now in the very beginning stage of their work where they're testing out components of the device to see how they'll age over time, where they could fail, and how long they could last in the human body overall before needing to be replaced.

Professor Solzbacher and his team in Utah will develop a thin-film encapsulation for the device to increase its life and to minimize the effects of the body's response to it.

To simulate the aging process, researchers are putting parts of the device in a water bath with similar temperatures to the human body and monitoring how they break down over time.

"It would be amazing if the project is as successful as the preliminary data indicates," said Solzbacher.

Researchers think this technology could also be used to treat sleep disorders, pain, and diseases.

Blackrock Microsystems, a Salt Lake City-based neuroscience company that Solzbacher co-founded, will be building the devices for human testing.

The project has $33 million in funding over four-and-a-half years.

Solzbacher said the time it takes to make the living pharmacy available to the public depends on how big the need for it is, what the uptake in the general population is, and how complex, extensive, and invasive the procedure to implant it is.

In addition to the University of Utah and Northwestern University, the research team also includes members from Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Minnesota, and Rice University.

This story was originally published by Jordan Hogan at KSTU.