A Duke University research program exploring the use of electricity to treat overactive bladder is among the first wave of bioelectric research collaborations signed with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK).

GSK announced in the spring that it would offer exploratory research project funding to academic groups working in bioelectronics. So far, six collaborations with GSK’s Bioelectronics R&D unit have been signed in the United States, The Netherlands and Portugal.

The other academic collaborators are:

  • Feinstein Institute for two projects in rheumatoid arthritis and inflammation sensing
  • University of Pennsylvania, for detection of disease signatures in neural signaling patterns
  • Academic Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands for inflammatory bowel disease
  • NOVA Medical School, NOVA University, Lisbon, Portugal for type 2 diabetes

The collaborations are the first of 15 research projects with academic institutions around the world.

The research comes as GSK announced on Wednesday a $1 million prize that will go to scientists who can solve a bioelectronics problem: creating an implantable medical device that can read, write and block the body’s electrical signals to treat disease.

Britain-based GSK, which operates its U.S. headquarters in Research Triangle Park, said it hopes the challenge will open and accelerate research in the field.

GSK envisions a day when tiny implantable devices take the place of pills or injections. GSK said it believes these devices could be programmed to read and correct the electrical signals that pass along the nerves of the body, including irregular or altered impulses that can occur in association with a broad range of diseases. The diverse range of potential disease targets include inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, asthma, hypertension and diabetes.

GSK made the announcements from New York at the Biolectronic Medicines Summit.

The meeting follows the launch over the summer of a new $50 million bioelectric medicine investment fund called Action Potential Venture Capital.