From inflammation to depression, electricity is transforming medicine

New advances are letting scientists use electrodes instead of drugs to treat dozens of diseases affecting millions of people.

Sharon Laudisi, who runs a green energy consulting company, was driving to see a client in Brooklyn, New York, in 2019, when she was rear-ended. She wound up in the hospital, but was discharged the next day, sent home to tend her bruised arm. Once she was at home, she made her way to the restroom. That’s when she realized she couldn’t button her pants. Her left thumb wouldn’t move, and she’d lost the ability to feel anything with it.

“I went to 15 doctors, all telling me, ‘Forget your thumb. It's not gonna work. It's not gonna bend. Just adapt,’” Laudisi says. But life without the use of her thumb meant she struggled to get dressed, hold her keys, open a bottle, or use a flat iron or blow dryer to style her hair. Before long, she resorted to wearing wigs.

More than a year after her accident, an orthopedic specialist told her about a clinical trial at the Feinstein Institutes of Medical Research in Manhasset, New York, that might help her. In November 2020, Laudisi met with researchers who explained that rather than using drugs or physical therapy, they might be able to heal her thumb with electricity. “They didn’t promise anything,” she says, but at least they gave her hope.

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