In early human tests, SetPoint Medical has found that an electronic implant helped reduce the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in six of eight patients. 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 impulses.
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.