Electronic Device Uses Pulses to Reduce Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain

Rheumatoid arthritis pain has been alleviated in half of patients enrolled in a study which used an electrical implanted device to emit magnetic pulses at the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

An electronic implanted device can relieve rheumatoid arthritis (RA) pain in adults, according to Dutch researchers and GlaxoSmithKline.

Researchers from the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam, the Netherlands worked with GlaxoSmithKline to insert pacemaker-like devices in the necks of 20 RA patients. The devices were turned on each day to stimulate the vagus nerve (connected to the brain, major organs, and is responsible for many automatic body functions) using a magnet for 3 minutes, and then sent electrical pulses to reduce the number of immune cells traveling to joints. The activity of the spleen is the target of the pulses. The immune cells are the cause of painful inflammation in RA patients, but the magnet device successfully reduced the pain in half of patients.

“It’s very appealing to patients because they don’t like to take medicines for 30 to 40 years of their lives,” Paul-Peter Tak, senior vice president and head of Immuno Inflammation Research and Development for GlaxoSmithKline, told media outlets. “It’s also restoring the natural balance in the body. We may be able to achieve remission in 20 percent to 30 percent of patients, which would be a huge step forward in the treatment of RA.”

The trial was done with 8 patients initially, and continued in the research program because of the lack of side effects and the benefits they had originally experienced. One patient involved in the study described the effects of the implantation as “magic.”

The full report of the investigation of the trial is expected to be published some time in 2015, even though researchers commented they still do not understand how the device has such a powerful effect on RA patients.

“I hope in 10 years, if you or I had diabetes, we could go to the doctor and they would introduce this sort of device on to the nerve that controls that balance,” elaborated the study’s lead researcher Kris Famm of GlaxiSmithKline. “It becomes your treatment instead of insulin injections or pills. This is quite a big step forward from pacemakers and defibrillators.”

GlaxoSmithKline believes the bioelectronic device and others like it could improve the quality of life in patients with inflammatory bowel disease, hypertension, and diabetes in the future. The technology, while effective, is not likely to be available for at least a decade because of the small number of patients included in the initial study.