Doctors at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, NY may have come up with an innovative way to “banish” the debilitating pain caused by lupus, by implanting a small bioelectric device into the neck to stimulate the vagus nerve.
The vagus (actually a pair of nerves that is generally referred to in the singular) is the longest nerve of the autonomic nervous system running from the medulla oblongata in the brain down to the 2nd segment of the transverse colon and supplies motor parasympathetic fiber to all the organs except the adrenal glands. It also controls a few skeletal muscles, including those controlling the heart, lungs, and digestive tract.
Lupus (aka systemic lupus erythematosus) is an autoimmune disease disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy tissue. According to the World Health Organization rates of disease vary between countries from 20-70 per 100,000, with people between the ages of 15-45 of “African, Caribbean, and Chinese descent at higher risk than Caucasians.”
Although lupus is more prevalent in females of childbearing age, men, too, can suffer its ravishing have. In fact, television personality, writer, producer and rapper (etc), Nick Cannon, 36, recently spent the Christmas holiday in the hospital due to a flare-up of the disease. Common symptoms during such flares include painful and swollen joints, fever, chest pain, hair loss, mouth ulcers, swollen lymph nodes, feeling tired, and a red “butterfly rash on the face. Meanwhile, there are few (if any) symptoms during intervals “remission.”
While there is no cure for lupus, treatments include a range of medications based on each patient’s individual symptoms and organ system involved. These may include, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and antimalarials such as hydroxychloroquine and immunosuppressants (e.g. methotrexate and azathioprine), as well as corticosteroids and immunosuppressants used to control the disease and prevent recurrence of symptoms.
In addition, because of the chronic pain associated with lupus, analgesics (painkillers) are often prescribed. However, they have been found to be ineffective for providing adequate relief, and may (eventually) lead to opiate addiction. In addition, NSAIDs such as indomethacin and diclofenac are relatively contraindicated for people with lupus due to the fact that they increase the risk of kidney failure and heart failure.
In the meantime, researchers at the Feinstein Institute hope that the above-mentioned implants will be able to control pain and eliminate the need for pharmaceuticals. The technique is based on “groundbreaking” discoveries made by the facility’s president Dr. Kevin Tracy, neurosurgeons, known pioneer in bioelectricity since the 1990’s, who has already proven that minute pulses of electricity administered through the vagus nerve has been successful in treating rheumatoid arthritis.
Note: Although trials involving the device have yet to begin, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has such faith in Tracey and his team at Feinstein that his administration has pledged to provide them with $50 million to support their bioelectronic research.