A new electronic implant can block the pain of rheumatoid arthritis, offering hope to thousands of severely affected sufferers. According to Sky News, the device is implanted into the neck, working similarly to pacemakers. It sends electrical impulses to the nervous system, basically telling it just calm down.
Researchers from the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam will publish their findings early in 2015, but in a study of 20 people, over half saw a significant improvement in their symptoms, in some cases eliminating the need for medication altogether. Obviously this was only a small trial and the implant won’t necessarily work for everyone, but it’s a breakthrough for an auto-immune disease that can be very disabling.
Less common than osteoarthritis, it still affects more than 400,000 people of all ages, the majority of them women. It’s caused by the body’s immune system becoming over-cautious and attacking the joints, causing pain and making it hard to function. Existing medications are not always effective and often come with unpleasant side effects, including nausea and hair loss.
Rheumatologist Professor Paul-Peter Tak told Sky, ‘Even in patients who have failed everything, including the most modern pharmaceuticals, we have seen a clear trend of improvement. 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 scientists hope to bring the device to market as quickly as possible, and say that it could be useful for other conditions, too, perhaps regulating airway spasms in asthma and insulin production in diabetes. Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline clearly agrees in the technology’s potential: they’ve just invested £32m, which should speed its progress along.
Image via Pixabay.
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