HealthDay News — Electronic stimulation of the vagus nerve may help ease symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), according to a study published online July 5 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Kevin Tracey, MD, president of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, NY, and colleagues implanted a vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) device in 17 patients with RA. Seven were in the earlier stages of the disease and had not responded to methotrexate. The rest had more advanced disease and had failed to improve after trying at least two biologic drugs.

Six weeks after the VNS devices were implanted, most of the patients were improving. The researchers found that 71.4% had at least a 20% improvement in their symptoms – including a reduction in the number of tender, swollen joints. In the group with early-stage RA, 57.1% had at least a 50% improvement; that was true for 28.6% of patients with more advanced disease. Blood levels of tumor necrosis factor, interleukin-1β, and interleukin-6 declined.

“This first-in-class study supports a conceptual framework for further studies of electronic medical devices in diseases currently treated with drugs,” the authors write. “Larger clinical trials in RA can be designed and powered to assess clinical efficacy, but our findings encourage pursuing this strategy.”

SetPoint Medical, a company that is developing neuromodulation therapies for RA and other diseases, funded the study. Tracey is a consultant to the company, and several of his co-researchers are SetPoint employees.

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