Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes joint pain, swelling and may lead to joint deformation. Current treatments for RA are sometimes ineffective and expensive.

Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) has been used for decades in the treatment of epilepsy and depression, but its use for countering the effects of inflammatory reactions has only recently become a reality.

As Kevin Tracey, founder of SetPoint Medical, has previously described, the link between the nervous system and immune system function was only speculated upon and not taken seriously until he performed research on rats. The painstaking experiments proved that stimulating the vagus nerve can trigger a reduction in the inflammatory response of the immune system in the spleen.

RA is a debilitating disease that is torturous to sufferers, who go through all possible treatment methods, some without significant improvement. This is what Kevin Tracey and SetPoint Medical set out to fix.

Backed by GlaxoSmithKline, they launched a worldwide pilot study that showed a significant improvement in quality of life of afflicted patients. The researchers in the Netherlands surgically implanted the device and attached it onto the vagus nerve in the neck.

The device is designed to send electric impulses to stimulate the vagus nerve, which is responsible for the inflammatory reflex. The vagus nerve plays a major role in immune system activation in the spleen.

Half of the 20 patients included in the Amsterdam study reported experiencing fewer symptoms of joint pain and a general improvement in quality of life. Taking into account the current ineffectiveness of treatment methods, side effects and associated costs, this could be a godsend for sufferers of chronic inflammatory illnesses.

Interest in bioelectronics is growing, and with this interest will come novel alternate methods of treating chronic diseases.