“Shock Medicine”: The “Inflammatory Reflex”

27 04 2015

We’re all familiar with the normal reflexes that are triggered when we are struck with a mallet in just the right spot, touch a hot stove, or flinch at an unexpected noise. What most of us don’t realize is that many reflexes are occurring beyond our perception. One of the most important reflexes is our body’s natural response to infection or injury. When a signal travels the neural pathways between the organs and the brain, it can sometimes result in what Dr. Kevin Tracey has dubbed the “inflammatory reflex”.

Our growing understanding of this critical “reflex” is pioneering a revolutionary new therapeutic strategy called bioelectronic medicine, which unlike treatments with pills and injections, takes advantage of the body’s natural control mechanisms to treat inflammation and other diseases. Dr. Tracey, a brain surgeon, has devoted his career to researching molecules that cause inflammation; in the 1980’s, he was part of the team that discovered the critical role of tumor necrosis factor (TNF) in infection and sepsis.

The immune system normally protects the body against infection and injury, and the inflammatory reflex is a biological mechanism that regulates the immune response. Failure of this protective mechanism can lead to diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, which are caused by an overactive immune response. Tracey’s research on TNF unexpectedly led to the discovery that the nervous system plays a key role in regulating the immune response. He showed that injecting a small amount of a drug that inhibits TNF into the brain actually blocked production of TNF throughout the body. He determined this effect was dependent on the vagus nerve, which transmits nerve impulses to and from several organs and the brain.

Dr. Tracey has developed an electrical device that stimulates the vagus nerve and prevents production of TNF by a type of immune cell called a macrophage, effectively inhibiting inflammation. Use of this device has dramatically improved symptoms in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Studies in numerous other diseases are underway, and there are many additional potential applications.

 

Read more about Dr. Tracey’s discoveries, and his vision for the future of medicine in Scientific American.

 

 

Feinsteininstitute.org [en línea] Manhasset, NY (USA): feinsteininstitute.org, 27 de abril de 2015 [ref. 18 de febrero de 2015] Disponible en Internet: http://www.feinsteininstitute.org/programs-researchers/featured-programs/bioelectronic-medicine/tapping-reflexes-treat-disease/