Electric Implant stimulates nerves to regulate Organ function and ControlsRheumatoid Arthritis.
can stimulate nerves in the body to
regulate organ function.
In early human tests, SetPoint Medical
has found that an electronic implant
helped reduce the symptoms of
rheumatoid arthritis in six of eight
This nerve-stimulating electrical implant
could give people a drug-free
alternative to current treatments.
The company, which is based
in Valencia, California, is one of many
groups exploring the potential of
electronic implants to treat diseases
by delivering pulses to nerves that
regulate organ or body functions.
Earlier this month, pharmaceutical
giant GlaxoSmithKline, medical-device
manufacturer Boston Scientific, and
others invested $27 million in
SetPoint. Although nerve-stimulating
devices have been available for many
years, GSK and academic researchers
argue that the field of bioelectronic
therapies is just beginning to ramp up
and that in the future many conditions
could be treated with electrical
developing a new implant that can be
charged with an external collar, which
also provides wireless communication
with an iPad app to monitor and
The arthritis-regulating device is
implanted in the patient’s neck and
wraps around the vagus nerve, a
bundle of nerve fibers that
communicates sensory information
from internal organs and controls
involuntary body functions such as
heart rate and digestion. The device
stimulates the nerve at regular
intervals in a particular pattern that
regulates the immune system, which
is overactive in rheumatoid arthritis.
Brain implants have previously been
used to treat movement disorders
and some psychiatric conditions.
Devices are also used to
stimulate nerves outside the brain. An
electrical device that stimulates the
vagus nerve is already used to treat
some cases of drug-resistant epilepsy
and depression, and another is
undergoing testing as a treatment for
congestive heart failure. But SetPoint
is covering new ground by testing
peripheral-nerve stimulation as a
treatment for immune disease.
“The industry is expanding rapidly”
says Kenneth Gustafson , a biomedical
engineer at Case Western Reserve
University in Cleveland, who is
studying electrical nerve stimulation as
a way to treat bladder dysfunction.
The precedent set by pacemakers,
deep brain implants, and other such
devices enables researchers to “take
that existing technology and
repurpose it for all these new
applications,” he says.
Researchers say the main advantage
of the electrical devices over drug
treatments is that they may not cause
as many side effects.
“Electrostimulation can be much
more selective,” Gustafson says. “The
targets are neural circuits that are not
behaving as they should.” Drugs, on
the other hand, often affect many
pathways in the body.
SetPoint has been running animal and
human trials using devices developed
by another company to treat epilepsy.
In the future, trials will use a
proprietary device that is smaller and
specifically engineered for the
infrequent stimulation needed to treat
rheumatoid arthritis. The company will
soon launch another small patient
study to test stimulation in patients
with Crohn’s disease, an autoimmune
condition that attacks the
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