Implant could ease arthritis suffering

ARTHRITIS sufferers could be spared further pain and joint damage by a tiny chip implant in their neck.

The radical new approach to treating the condition is being developed by scientists in the Netherlands who will begin a Europe-wide trial on volunteers next month.

One in five Irish people are affected by arthritis and support group Arthritis Ireland said any advances towards easing their pain were very welcome.

Spokesman Stephen O’Farrell said: “This is a really new direction because usually the emphasis is on developing new drugs. It’s a very positive direction and we’ll be watching the results closely.”

The chip, developed by researchers at the Academic Medical Centre at the University of Amsterdam, sends electrical pulses to the vagas nerve, which stretches from the brain stem down to the colon.

Results from experiments on rats and mice show it not only reduces the debilitating pain and swelling characteristic of arthritis but actually stops the associated damage to the joints that can result in serious loss of mobility.

University of Amsterdam Professor of Rheumatology Paul-Peter Tak who is heading up the research project, said the early indications were that humans would enjoy similar benefits. “There are fewer complaints of pain and swelling, but more impressive is that you put the brakes on the damage that occurs to the joints.”

There is currently no cure for arthritis and existing drugs to treat the symptoms can have strong side effects including ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeding and increased risk of heart disease.

The aim of the chip would be to significantly reduce or eradicate the need for drugs. Professor Tak’s team expect to have results from their patient trials within the year.

While the application of the idea to arthritis is new, similar devices are in use to treat other conditions. The pacemaker works by sending electrical impulses to regulate heart beat. Doctors have also had some success using chips on the vagas nerve to control epilepsy.

Arthritis is often thought of as a condition of older people but Arthritis Ireland points out there are over 100 different types of arthritis, affecting people of all ages from babies and toddlers to adults. In fact, 60% of the 840,000 people affected here are under 65.

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