There’s an interesting article in Scientific American about a new trial for Rheumatoid Arthritis. The treatment involves a small pacemaker-like device that delivers tiny electrical shocks to the vagus nerve, a nerve that runs down the neck from the brainstem to several major organs, including the heart and gut.
The technique is already used to treat epilepsy and depression. Stimulating the vagus nerve causes T-cells to release acetylcholine, which binds to macrophages in the spleen and stops them from releasing pro-inflammatory molecules like IL6 and TNF-alpha. Interestingly, different fibers in the vagus nerve respond to different levels of electrical stimulation, and only a very low “dose” of electricity is needed to generate the anti-inflammatory effect. So a treatment for arthritis would have less side-effects than the techniques currently used for epilepsy.
Could electrical stimulation someday be a treatment for Systemic JIA? It’s too early to tell: so far there have been no trials in SJIA, and only 2 early trials in Rheumatoid Arthritis, with 25 patients total. But “electraceuticals” are a promising next-generation treatment. Google subsidiary Verily has partnered with GlaxoSmithKline to develop electrical stimulating treatments for arthritis, diabetes, and asthma. And the NIH has dedicated a 238 million dollar fund towards developing treatments that use this technique.
We’ll be watching the trials with Rheumatoid Arthritis closely, and we’d love to hear from anyone working on applying this technology towards to treating SJIA.