Tracey, global team unearth new bioelectronic clue

Detective Tracey: Feinstein Institute CEO Kevin Tracey may have helped uncover a a vital clue in the development of new non-pharmaceutical treatment options for a wide range of conditions.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

An international research team featuring one of Long Island’s great innovators has uncovered a potential key to fighting viral infections – a bioelectronic-medicine breakthrough with wide-ranging implications for a multitude of patients and conditions.

Feinstein Institute for Medical Research President and CEO Kevin Tracey, a global electronic nerve-stimulation and bioelectronic medicine pioneer, joined with scientists from Canada, Europe and Asia to research and announce the new findings, detailed in an article published online Thursday by Science magazine.

The article, “Choline Acetyltransferase-Expressing T Cells are Required to Control Chronic Viral Infection,” focuses on the chemical acetylcholine – which is produced by neurons and also by white blood cells as a signal to fight viruses – and its critical role as a neurotransmitter in the fight against invading viral forces.

Tracey, a longtime student and observer of the immune system who has led the development of the emerging pharmaceuticals-free field of bioelectronic medicine, joined a team directed by Tak Mak and Maureen Cox, doctors at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, part of Canada’s University Health Network.

Tak Mak: Proof positive.

Among the team’s principle findings: genetically engineered mice that failed to produce acetylcholine in T-Cells failed to control chronic virus infections.

Tracey on Thursday noted a significant clue to unlocking the mysterious – perhaps extraordinary – powers of bioelectronics, which exist at the intersection of neuroscience, molecular biology and bioengineering.

“This finding – that immune cells need acetylcholine to fight viral infections – is an important and surprising insight into how to strengthen the immune system,” the Feinstein Institute CEO added. “It offers a crucial new insight into how to pursue bioelectronic medicine devices to treat infections.”

Mak, who in 2016 won the Feinstein Institute’s Anthony Cerami Award in Translational Medicine in recognition of his T-cell research, trumpeted “absolute genetic proof that immune cells need this brain chemical in order to swing into action” when disease comes calling.

“Not only does it give us a sharper understanding of the body’s immunological response mechanisms, it also brings immunology and bioelectronic medicine onto the same path of discovery,” Mak said in a statement.