Scientists from The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, Kevin J. Tracey, MD, and Valentin Pavlov, PhD, published in Neuron findings of preclinical and clinical research in bioelectronic medicine, highlighting potential hope for patients who live with inflammatory diseases, cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and other disorders. Treating these diseases without the use of traditional, often harmful, biologics may be possible with bioelectronic medicine.
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Valentin Pavlov, PhD, professor in the Institute of Bioelectronic Medicine at the Feinstein Institutes, is one of the co-authors of the new article recently published in Neuron. (Credit: Feinstein Institutes)
The Feinstein Institutes is the global scientific home of bioelectronic medicine. Investigators within the Institute of Bioelectronic Medicine at the Feinstein Institutes have studied the use of electricity to target nerves to control inflammation within the body for more than two decades. Bioelectronic medicine combines molecular medicine, neuroscience and biomedical engineering to develop innovative therapies to treat a variety of diseases and conditions through targeted stimulation of nerves, including paralysis, rheumatoid arthritis, pulmonary hypertension and inflammatory bowel disease.
"If we can control inflammation, we can control disease. As we have seen over the past 20 years, we can regain control of our body's immune system through the use of electricity and targeting our nerves," said Dr. Tracey, president and CEO of the Feinstein Institutes and Karches Family Distinguished Chair in Medical Research. "We hope this paper acts as a roadmap for bioelectronic medicine researchers to navigate and discover ways to treat disease without drugs."
In the article, Drs. Tracey and Pavlov outline breakthrough discoveries made in the lab and how they translate to clinical care today. For example, a discovery made by Dr. Tracey and colleagues highlighted the role the vagus nerve plays in controlling our body's immune response, known as the inflammatory reflex. Inflammation can be controlled through the vagus nerve – the body's main highway of neural information that prompts and curbs our body's immune response and the release of often harmful inflammatory molecules. By modulating this neural reflex circuit with electricity, researchers have shown the ability to stop those harmful inflammatory proteins and return the body to maintain homeostasis.
"Bioelectronic medicine has emerged as a field driven by progress in neuroscience and many other disciplines. Discovering molecular targets controlled by nerves has allowed further research into the use of devices and other stimulation methods to treat disease," said Dr. Pavlov, professor in the Institute of Bioelectronic Medicine at the Feinstein Institutes. "While there is still plenty of work to be done, in the research lab and through clinical trials, it is encouraging to see the potential bioelectronic medicine has to help so many people."
Drs. Pavlov and Tracey spotlight how lab bench discoveries, like the inflammatory reflex, are being put into clinical use. For example, new technology has led to improvements in the assembly, microfabrication, miniaturization and long-term stability of nerve implants along with advances in the design of electrode cuffs and the use of other flexible materials used to stimulate and record neural activity. Artificial intelligence (AI) allows large data sets to be generated, stored and analyzed to develop algorithms for identifying specific patterns, which is helpful in neuronal coding and mapping. AI and machine learning are critical in improving brain-machine interfaces to help people with neurological disorders as well as paralysis.
Optogenetics, or the use of light to stimulate nerves, as well as nerve implants, deep brain stimulation and ultrasound stimulation techniques are being explored in current clinical trials to help patients suffering from retinal diseases, inflammatory diseases, depression, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and other neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disorders.
Researchers at the Feinstein Institutes continue to make great strides in the field of bioelectronic medicine and continue to lead in communicating the research worldwide.
About the Feinstein Institutes
The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research is the home of the research institutes of Northwell Health, the largest health care provider and private employer in New York State. Encompassing 50 research labs, 3,000 clinical research studies and 5,000 researchers and staff, the Feinstein Institutes raises the standard of medical innovation through its five institutes of behavioral science, bioelectronic medicine, cancer, health system science, and molecular medicine. We make breakthroughs in genetics, oncology, brain research, mental health, autoimmunity, and are the global scientific leader in bioelectronic medicine – a new field of science that has the potential to revolutionize medicine. For more information about how we produce knowledge to cure disease, visit http://feinstein.northwell.edu and follow us on LinkedIn.
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