Rice engineers are working on an implant to control the body's circadian clock

Engineers at Rice University are working on something that is funded by DARPA that could one day result in an implant that can counter jet lag. The research at Rice University is part of a $33 million national effort to develop a wireless and implantable device that can control the body's circadian rhythms. Controlling circadian rhythms could cut the time it takes to recover from jet lag and other disruptions to the body sleep/wake cycles in half.

The project aims to blend bioelectronics, synthetic biology, and traditional electronics to create what the team calls a "living pharmacy" to produce the same peptide molecules the body naturally produces to the regulated sleep cycle. DARPA is funding the project because the device could be a major tool for military personnel that frequently travel across multiple time zones, and first responders and shift workers who oscillate between overnight and daytime shifts.

The device is called NTRAIN (Normalizing Timing of Rhythms Across Internal Networks of Circadian Clocks), and it's part of the DARPA Advanced Acclamation and Protection Tool for Environmental Readiness (ADAPTER) program that aims to address challenges posed by travel, including jet lag, fatigue, and gastrointestinal problems. NTRAIN will engineer cells to produce peptides to regulate sleep cycles. Those engineered cells respond to light that can be delivered by electronic controls that adjust timing and dose.

Researchers on the project say if they're able to bring all of the manufacturing right into the patient and produce high-quality compounds on an as-needed basis, the possibilities are endless. Power and communications for the implant will be delivered using a weak magnetic field generated by a wearable device.

The technology can provide all of the power required for the system while maintaining device security. The design only allows the device to communicate in the near field over a couple of centimeters, so any hacker would have to be in physical contact with the device.