Arthritis patients may look forward to cure for the disease thanks to a revolutionary electronic implant, recently studied at the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam. The device, which is indicated for cases of severe rheumatoid arthritis, is comprised of a tiny pacemaker placed by physicians in the patient’s neck that interacts with the nervous system. The implant’s early and encouraging results have resulted in a $50 million grant from GlaxoSmithKline to further develop the technology.
The implant applies small electrical impulses directly to a key nerve that connects to the brain, which innervates the body’s vital organs. The research team observed the implant’s ability to dramatically improve rheumatoid arthritis in more than half of the patients studied. The study included 20 rheumatoid arthritis patients who were examined by scientists at the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam, and the results may potentially reshape the treatment of the more than 400,000 people who suffer from the disease in the United Kingdom.
“Even in patients who have failed everything, including the most modern pharmaceuticals, we have seen a clear trend of improvement,” explained one of the Centre’s resident rheumatologists, Professor Paul-Peter Tak, in an interview to Thomas Moore from a Sky News report. “We may be able to achieve remission in 20% to 30% of patients, which would be a huge step forward in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.”
The device stimulates the vagus nerve, which is responsible for connecting with the main organs of the body, as well as for several involuntary functions of the body, including breathing or the heart rate. It only gives impulses for three minutes everyday, but it is enough to decrease the spleen’s immune response. In only a few days of therapy, the implant is able to influence the organ to reduce production of substances and cells that drive inflammation.
Aside from causing a patient’s voice to tremble, no other side effects have been reported.
In addition, the researchers believe that the revolutionary device may be also used by patients suffering from other chronic conditions, such as asthma, obesity and diabetes. The results of the study are scheduled for publication by the beginning of 2015, and the investigators expect the therapy to be available in about 10 years. The next step is to further research in order to better understand the effects of the implant.
“I hope that in 10-20 years if you or I had diabetes, we would go to the doctor and there is an option to introduce this sort of device onto the nerve that controls that balance,” said lead researcher Kris Famm. He believes the implants may be able to prevent asthmatic airway spams, control appetite in obesity, and restore normal insulin production in diabetes. “It becomes your treatment instead of insulin injections or pills.”