A coin-sized device implanted on the side of the neck could significantly reduce rheumatoid arthritis symptoms in patients, including the severe pain that makes their daily tasks harder. Tested by researchers at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, University of Amsterdam and SetPoint Medical, the tiny gadget works by giving small electric shocks for up to four hours a day to stimulate the vagus nerve and reduce inflammation.
Compared to men, women are three times more likely to be affected by this type of arthritis, which severely attacks the wrists, toes, fingers, ankles and knees. The research team wanted to find out whether the device could help reduce inflammation by stimulating directly the vagus nerve, which runs through the body and connects the brain to the major organs. It cuts production of the immune system chemicals responsible for driving rheumatoid arthritis.
The study findings were very encouraging. The treatment aims at eliminating inflammation and ultimately relieve symptoms, preventing further damage and reducing long-term complications. Some people involved in the research experienced total relief after having tried all kinds of drugs to treat the autoimmune disease unsuccessfully.
The experiment was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and its authors implanted a stimulation device on the vagus nerve in 17 rheumatoid arthritis patients. It took them just an hour. The gadget was enabled and disabled on a set scheduled for 84 days and researchers monitored progress and treatment response at 42 days.
The device generated tiny electric shocks for up to four minutes a day, activating the vagus nerve. Symptoms of the disease were cut in half in about 60 percent of the participants, according to the paper.
The research team used a disease activity composite score called DAS28-CRP to measure the patient response. It works by measuring tender and swollen joints, protein levels that are C-reactive and the assessment of disease activity by doctor and patient.
The team did not find any serious side effect, and many of the patients whose bodies had not successfully responded to previous treatments experienced inhibition of TNF production, which can make the increase the disease’s severity.
One of the participants said she had her normal life back after receiving the treatment, as reported by the Daily Mail, which informed that the disease affects 400,000 Britons. The woman had suffered from severe pain as she struggled to walk across her house. She compared the treatment with magic and said she was now able to go biking, drive her car and walk her dog.
A real breakthrough to treat patients struggling with inflammatory diseases
“This is a real breakthrough in our ability to help people suffering from inflammatory diseases,” Dr. Kevin Tracey, president and CEO of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, expressed in a press release, as reported by United Press International. “I believe this study will change the way we see modern medicine, helping us understand that our nerves can, with a little help, make the drugs that we need to help our body heal itself,” Tracey added.
Tracey explained that the treatment had been previously tested in animal models and noted that this is the first time researchers see that electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve works by inhibiting cytokine production and ultimately reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in humans.
The treatment requires further research before it can be offered to all patients suffering from the disease, but researchers say that the method might also be effective to treat other inflammatory diseases such as Parkinson’s, Crohn’s, and Alzheimer.
Anthony Arnold, chief executive officer of SetPoint Medical, said the findings provide a new approach to using bioelectronics medicines to fight diseases. These drugs use electrical pulses instead of powerful and expensive drugs currently used to treat patients. Such drugs are often associated with severe side-effects, including a higher risk of heart attacks and strokes. A small implant could be safer and cheaper.
“These results support our ongoing development of bioelectronic medicines designed to improve the lives of people suffering from chronic inflammatory diseases and give healthcare providers new and potentially safer treatment alternatives at a much lower total cost for the healthcare system,” Arnold continued, according to UPI.
And Dutch researcher Professor Paul-Peter Tak, of the University of Amsterdam, said this new method would completely change the way health experts think about treatment, according to the Daily Mail. He also works at Cambridge University and drug firm GSK.
Source: United Press International