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New Implant Offers Hope For Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients

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A new electronic implant could transform the lives of people living with rheumatoid arthritis.

It was developed by researchers in the Netherlands, working with British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline. More than half of patients involved in a recent study at the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam experienced a significant improvement in their condition.

The pacemaker-style device is embedded in the necks of patients with severe rheumatoid arthritis to effectively “hack” into their nervous systems, Sky News reports.

The implant stimulates the vagus nerve, which scientists believe plays a role in regulating the activity of the immune system through the spleen. The study showed that the activity of the spleen could be reduced by firing impulses for just three minutes a day, resulting in fewer chemicals and other immune cells that cause the joint inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis.

Professor Paul-Peter Tak, a rheumatologist at the Academic Medical Centre, told Sky News: “Even in patients who have failed everything, including the most modern pharmaceuticals, we have seen a clear trend of improvement. We may be able to achieve remission in 20% to 30% of patients, which would be a huge step forward in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.”

Patients can switch the nerve stimulator on and off at any time by moving a magnet over the implant. One woman who participated in the trial described the effect as “like magic” and said that within six weeks she was totally free of pain.

It´s not yet available on the market, but doctors hope the nerve stimulator could be widely used for treating rheumatoid arthritis within 10 years.