Bioelectronic medicine may offer alternative treatment for inflammatory disorders

Bioelectronic medicine, a new and more advanced version of electroacupuncture, is aiming to treat chronic diseases with electrical signals in the body by using miniature implantable devises to make sure organs function properly, according to to a paper published yesterday in Trends in Molecular Medicine.

"Our bodies are a lot like rooms in a house," says Luis Ulloa, an immunologist at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark and lead researcher. "In order to see when you enter a darkened room, you need electricity to turn on the lights. Our body is like that room and has an electrical network that can be used to manipulate and help control how it works."

According to researchers, stimulating procedures, which include acupuncture, electroacupuncture, and neuromodulation, can be advantageous for treating inflammatory disorders. Further, Ulloa says these studies have found that nerve stimulation provides therapeutic benefits in treating colitis, diabetes, obesity, pancreatitis, paralysis, and life threatening infections.

"All you have to do is look at the pacemaker and how it has enabled people with arrhythmias to live long lives," says Ulloa. "We believe this type of medicine could be used throughout the body."

In a 2014 study, Ulloa and his colleagues discovered that transmitting short electrical pulses into mice through acupuncture needles, the vagus nerve that links the neck, heart, lungs, and abdomen to the brain was stimulated and sepsis prevented.

What scientists now need to do, Ulloa says, is compare the data from all these nerve-stimulating procedures to the recent studies done in experimental and animal models. This means recognizing the clinical advantages of varying procedures including acupuncture, controversial, and questioned by some clinicians for its efficacy.

Ulloa argues that the clinical outcome of acupuncture depends on the experience of the practitioner and the precision of the needles. More studies need to be done, he says, to determine how and why the procedure, according to clinical studies, can improve postoperative recovery, osteoarthritis, migraine, joint pain, stroke, post-traumatic stress disorder, and drug addiction.

The American Pain Society, The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the National Institutes of Health, and the World Health Organization all endorse the use of electroacupuncture.

Further examination of nerve-stimulating techniques will lead to new and improved treatments for physical and mental health ailments, Ulloa says.