A new study has found that rheumatoid arthritis patients who received vagus nerve stimulation showed "robust" responses.
The treatment involved an implantation of a device designed to stimulate the vagus nerve. The experiment was conducted at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research.
In this autoimmune disease, the immune system attacks the joints. While the actual cause of rheumatoid arthritis remains unknown, treatments are designed to stop the resulting inflammations, which then relieves the symptoms, reduces long-term difficulties and prevents severe injury.
A team of researchers from the Feinstein Institute, SetPoint Medical and the University of Amsterdam conducted a study to see if a direct inflammatory reflex stimulation can reduce rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
Prior studies of the method conducted on animals already showed success rates. The findings of the recent experiment showed that the method could also work in humans. Moreover, the treatment concept can be effective in treating other forms of inflammatory diseases.
Feinstein Institute president and CEO Kevin Tracey said that the study is a "real breakthrough" in the ability to help patients with inflammatory diseases.
Tracey added that until the study, there was no evidence that electrically stimulating the vagus nerve can prevent the production of cytokine and reduce the disease's severity in human patients.
The findings can change the way the scientific and medical communities see modern medicine and deepen our understanding of what the nerves can do. For instance, with a little help, the nerves can make the "drugs" needed to help the body repair itself.
For the study, the research team enrolled 17 patients whose vagus nerve was surgically given a stimulation device. Working on a schedule, the implanted device activated and deactivated the vagus nerve for a total of 84 days. The rate of response and progress were measured for 42 days.
The patient's response to the stimulation device was measured using the standard DAS28-CRP scoring system, which includes measurements for swollen and tender joints, levels of serum C-reactive protein (CRP) as well as the evaluations made by both patients and physicians.
The research team noted there were no dangerous side effects documented in any patient. Moreover, many of the patients whose previous treatments failed showed significant developments.
"Our findings suggest a new approach to fighting diseases with bioelectronic medicines," said SetPoint Medical chief executive officer Anthony Arnold. The new method makes use of electrical pulses to treat medical conditions that are currently using strong and costly drugs.
The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.