Can Vagus Nerve Stimulation Prevent the Development of Rheumatoid Arthritis

rheumatoid-arthritisPeople suffering from rheumatoid arthritis may soon be clapping their hands in joy as a new study says vagus nerve stimulation showed “robust” response.  More specifically, the study suggests that implanting a device in the body which can stimulate the vagus nerve could provide significant improvement in joint pain relief.

Rheumatoid arthritis, of course, is an autoimmune disease in which an inflammatory malfunction causes the immune system to attack the joints, causing stiffness and pain.  The exact cause is unknown but science tells us that preventing or stopping the initial inflammation relieves the symptoms and slows damage that can result in long-term complications.

The study, which involved researchers from the University of Amsterdam’s Feinstein Institute for Medical Research as well as SetPoint Medical, tested the direct stimulation of the inflammatory reflex in the vagus nerve, to find that it could be effective.

According to the report—which bears the title: “Vagus nerve stimulation inhibits cytokine production and attenuates disease severity in rheumatoid arthritis”—the small implanted device is only minimally invasive but could offer extreme benefits.

Lead international investigator Professor Paul-Peter Tak, MD, PhD, FmedSci notes, “This is the first study to evaluate whether stimulating the inflammatory reflex directly with an implanted electronic device can treat RA in humans.” The University of Amsterdam Academic Medical Center Division of Clinical Immunology & Rheumatology researcher goes on to say, “We have previously shown that targeting the inflammatory reflex may reduce inflammation in animal models and in vitro models of RA. The direct correlation between vagus nerve stimulation and the suppression of several key cytokines like TNF as well as reduced RA signs and symptoms demonstrates proof of mechanism, which might be relevant for other immune-mediated inflammatory diseases as well.”
Finally, study co-author Kevin J. tracey, MD notes, “This is a real breakthrough in our ability to help people suffering from inflammatory diseases.” The president and CEO of Northwell Health’s Feinstein Institute for Medical Research—and the one who discovered the inflammatory reflex and co-founder of SetPoint Medical—continues,  “While we’ve previously studied animal models of inflammation, until now we had no proof that electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve can indeed inhibit cytokine production and reduce disease severity in humans. 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.”

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