Feinstein stimulates talk of an arthritis breakthrough

Ear all about it: Non-invasive electronic nerve stimulation delivered through the outer ear can reduce the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, according to Feinstein Institute researchers.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

An encouraging new study out of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research says noninvasive bioelectronic stimulation – administered through the outer ear – can effectively reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

The potentially quantum leap for the treatment of RA and other inflammatory diseases was reported Tuesday in Bioelectronic Medicine, an open-access journal aggregating articles and data from across a dozen-plus basic and clinical disciplines, including biochemistry, neuroscience, bioengineering, artificial intelligence and others.

In the pilot study, “Investigational Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis With a Vibrotactile Device Applied to the External Ear,” scientists representing the Manhasset-based Feinstein Institute, a recognized global leader in bioelectronic research, and the University of Amsterdam crunched data gathered through a number of experiments involving electric nerve stimulation – in this case, tiny, painless shocks administered through the outer ear.

More specifically: highly targeted and tuned jolts zapped through the cymba concha, a curved ridge of the outer ear, meant to stimulate the all-important vagus nerve system.

Six healthy subjects received vibrotactile treatments at the cymba concha and had their tumor necrosis factor (a key to systematic inflammation) subsequently analyzed; at the same time, 19 healthy subjects were enrolled in a crossover study that tested cytokine levels (critical proteins that reduce inflammation) following vibrotactile treatments on the cymba concha or the gastrocnemius muscle, located on the leg.

Meanwhile, the “clinical efficacy” of vibrotactile treatment on actual disease activity was assessed in nine RA patients, part of what the Feinstein Institute called “a prospective interventional study.”

Sangeeta Chavan: Psyched up about cytokines.

The results: Tapping into the nervous system via non-invasive stimulation at the external ear seems to improve disease symptoms in RA patients.

“This clinical research suggests that non-invasive stimulation could suppress inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis patients,” noted Feinstein Institute President and CEO Kevin Tracey, the bioelectronic medicine pioneer listed as a co-senior author on the paper.

It also adds to the Feinstein Institute’s amazing bioelectronic momentum. Recent nerve-stimulation developments out of Northwell Health’s Manhasset R&D mothership include a “novel resuscitation approach” involving trigeminal nerve stimulation and a $9.7 million National Institutes of Health grant funding a global effort (including Feinstein researchers) to treat the deaf with implanted electrodes.

A non-pharmaceutical, nonsurgical treatment for RA – a painful, chronic inflammatory disease characterized by swelling and stiffness – would be tremendous news for the estimated 1.3 million Americans who suffer from the disease, running up tens of billions of dollars in annual medical expenses along the way.

Sangeeta Chavan, a professor in the Feinstein Institute’s Center for Biomedical Science and associate professor of molecular medicine at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell, had those patients in mind when she worked with Feinstein researcher Meghan Addorisio to discover the effects of bioelectronic medicine on cytokine production.

“Our primary objective was to observe if a non-invasive treatment using an external device will be effective in improving disease severity of rheumatoid arthritis that continues to plague more than 1 million across the country each year,” added Chavan, also a co-senior author of the promising paper. “We are pleased to observe that this novel bioelectronic treatment significantly reduces swelling and inflammation associated with RA.”