Knapp gift locks Feinstein bioelectronics on diabetes

Nerve beginnings: Next-level bioelectronic diabetes treatments are coming soon from the Feinstein Institute -- sooner, thanks to the Knapp Family Foundation.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

A new research program will focus the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research’s considerable bioelectronic resources on a main antagonist of American health: diabetes.

The research and development division of the Northwell Health system has received a $1 million gift from The Knapp Foundation, enough to kick off a four-year effort to explore bioelectronic medicine-based treatments for the chronic disease, which affects more than 29 million Americans – just under 10 percent of the national population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Knapp Foundation concentrates primarily on educational scholarships and internship programs, but has a keen personal interest in ushering the Feinstein Institute’s next-generation diabetes treatments to the forefront, according to foundation President Charles Knapp.

“Diabetes impacts our family, as it impacts millions of other families around the world,” Knapp said in a statement. “Which is why we are passionate in our support of the Feinstein Institute’s innovative and scientific efforts in combating this debilitating condition.”

A team led by Chad Bouton, Northwell Health’s vice president of advanced engineering and director of the Feinstein Institute’s Center for Bioelectronic Medicine, will put The Knapp Foundation stipend toward development of an implantable device that will “function as an electronic pancreas,” according to the Feinstein Institute.

Ultimately, the bioelectronic nerve-stimulation device will aim to regulate patients’ glucose metabolism without the use of insulin, a staple of current diabetes treatments. Instead, the electronic pancreas will employ cutting-edge electronics to analyze and modulate specific neural pathways.

Chad Bouton: Heal thyself.

Noting the expense and “adverse side effects” of current diabetes treatments, Bouton said the idea is to help the body help itself through targeted nerve stimulation – a cornerstone of Feinstein Institute research that’s making steady surgical and medicinal gains.

“The new research program will support our development of devices that help the body heal itself, without relying on drugs,” Bouton noted, suggesting “new, safe treatment options for a condition plaguing so many Americans.”

While developing the new technology, the Feinstein Institute will conduct preclinical studies targeting both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Neural decoding and data analytics will be used to broaden understanding of the nervous system’s role in glucose regulation, the institute noted.

The Knapp grant comes on the heels of a “strategic alliance” announced in February by the Feinstein Institute and GE Ventures, the multinational conglomerate’s New Jersey-based business-licensing and equity arm. While no financial terms were disclosed, Northwell Health did note a GE Ventures “investment” in the evolving Center for Bioelectronic Medicine and continuing support for the development and commercialization of “new diagnostic and therapeutic solutions in bioelectronic medicine” for a wide range of injuries and diseases, including diabetes.

Although it focuses primarily on educational support, the New York City-based Knapp Foundation has supported prior R&D efforts at the Feinstein Institute and Northwell Health’s Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan.

And the foundation has a long history of supporting “novel research investigations for disease treatments that otherwise would not be funded, including type 1 diabetes,” according to the Feinstein Institute.