How electricity could replace your medications


Kevin Tracey on the future of bioelectronic medicine

Neurosurgeon and immunologist Kevin Tracey shares the frontiers of a new, hybrid field - bioelectronic medicine.

This Ted Talk is an excellent introduction to Kevin Tracey and neuromodulation. Tracey has been championing the practice of using electric signals for purposes of neuromodulation, with the ultimate goal of maintaining immunological homeostasis. 

I have been revisiting my notes on neuromodulation after his group released a very promising research study that looked at the effects of vagus nerve stimulation for Rheumatoid Arthritis. This was a landmark study that demonstrated for the first time that vagus nerve stimulation inhibits TNF production and attenuates inflammation in humans. 

This gets me very excited for upcoming technological advances, that may change the way we view and treat diseases. Essentially, this paper proposes that action potentials carried in the vagus nerve suppress cytokine production, this is termed the "inflammatory reflex". This study uses an invasive devise to activate this inflammatory response, but Tracey has also been looking at activating this response through auricular branches of the vagus nerve. I will keep a close eye and his work and keep my readers posted.

Key Message

The future of bioelectric medicine is bright - It has now been demonstrated that the "inflammatory reflex" can be exploited to therapeutic advantage through vagus nerve stimulation. 

More to Explore

Bioelectronic medicine, gets talked about in the book Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body (Highly Recommended)

Bonaz, B., Sinniger, V., & Pellissier, S. (2016). Anti-inflammatory properties of the vagus nerve: Potential therapeutic implications of vagus nerve stimulation. The Journal of Physiology.

Chavan, S. S., & Tracey, K. J. (2014). Regulating innate immunity with dopamine and electroacupuncture. Nature Medicine.

Koopman, F. A., Chavan, S. S., Miljko, S., Grazio, S., Sokolovic, S., Schuurman, P. R., . . . Tak, P. P. (2016). Vagus nerve stimulation inhibits cytokine production and attenuates disease severity in rheumatoid arthritis. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Pavlov, V. A., & Tracey, K. J. (2015). Neural circuitry and immunity. Immunologic Research

Pereira, M. R., & Leite, P. E. (2016). The Involvement of Parasympathetic and Sympathetic Nerve in the Inflammatory Reflex. Journal of Cellular Physiology.

Tracey, K. J. (2016). Reflexes in Immunity. Cell.