New research suggests that electrical impulses may one day be used to treat rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Neurosurgeon Kevin J. Tracey, MD, president and CEO of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, N.Y., discovered that stimulating the vagus nerve, which extends from the brain stem to the stomach, could control the inflammation that is central to RA.
In healthy people, the nervous system, including the vagus nerve, maintains key bodily functions within a safe zone. One of the vagus nerve’s jobs is to control the production of tumor necrosis factor (TNF), a molecule that triggers inflammation. But in people with RA, the vagus nerve doesn’t keep TNF levels within the safe zone.