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Research suggests a drug-free way to treat chronic inflammation

One researcher’s innovative work with the vagus nerve holds promising applications to individuals who suffer from disabilities like chronic inflammation, rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease.

Current treatments for such inflammatory afflictions often involve drugs intended to treat pain symptoms. Unfortunately, those medications can have varied results and potentially dangerous side effects. For that reason, the researcher was searching for a holistic method to stimulate the body's natural anti-inflammatory response mechanisms.

Until recently, the scientific consensus was that the immune and nervous systems could not communicate with each other. However, the researcher theorized that there was a connection between them. To test his hypothesis, the researcher delivered electrical pulses to a lab rat’s exposed vagus nerve, and then he administered a bacterial toxin known to trigger inflammation in animals. The results confirmed the researcher’s suspicion: The electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve appeared to have blocked the inflammatory response in the rat by 75 percent.

The researcher’s work is part of a growing field of research called bioelectronics. The hope is that one day, implants may be able to communicate with the nervous system, stimulating responses that may fight a number of disabling conditions -- from chronic pain to cancer. 

Until that day arrives, however, a worker whose chronic pain prevents him or her from working may need to apply to Social Security disability programs for assistance. Although the application procedures can be long and difficult, an attorney can help applicants navigate that process. Those who have serious conditions and have paid into the system deserve to receive the benefits they need.

Source: The New York Times, “Can the Nervous System Be Hacked?” Michael Behar, May 23, 2014

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