Many remarkable phenomena exist in the world of living things. One of the most amazing of these is the manner in which electrical energy controls and influences the nervous systems of all living things. Most of this sophisticated interaction between environment and nervous system remains well beyond the present understanding of mere mortals. In the aquatic world many creatures continually interact with their environments with low levels of ambient electrical energy (in addition to other senses). This electrical interaction appears to be of a exquisitely precise nature. One example of this are the lateral line sensory organs of fish which allow them to orient and monitor their environment in a precise manner.
In marked contrast to the skills of aquatic animals, exemplified by the hammerhead shark shown above, human efforts designed to harness low levels of electrical energy as a means of influencing bodily function and as treatment for disease remain quite primitive. The term “neurostimulation” refers to the application of electrical energy to the human body and nervous system as a means of attempting to influence function in a positive manner.
The term “neuroaugmentation” was first coined by the Department of Neuroaugmentive Surgery (logo shown below) at the Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute in 1974 as a means of describing this then new science of developing and utilizing implanted neurostimulation devices being developed to treat disease and promote rehabilitation. With the passage of time the term is still in use.
The earliest recorded human effort at neurostimulation appears to have been that of the Mesopotamian healer Scribonius Largus through the application of electrical torpedo fish.
The mechanisms by which electrical stimulation of the nervous system produces pain relief are not known with any degree of certainty but a number of plausible theories presently exist to satisfy our curiosity on this subject. What is clear is that we have a long way to go before we begin the approach the sophistication of what we refer to as the “lower animals.” It would be interesting indeed to know today what historians of the next century would think of our present neurostimulation efforts. They might just compare this to past “bloodletting” and “purging” therapies of not so long ago.
With this in mind it is seems appropriate to further examine the history of neurostimulation so as to provide a pavement for those who will be fortunate enough to be able to walk along this exciting and challenging path in the future.