A Greek researcher and his team in the US are the first in the world to decode the special signals, which the nervous system use to "communicate" the state of the immune system and the signs of inflammation to the brain.
The reading of these nerve signals and brain-related messages on body health is seen as a major step forward in the field of bioelectronics as it provides new possibilities for the development of innovative devices that will allow the diagnosis and treatment of various illnesses in the future.
Assistant Professor Theodoros Zanos of the Center for Bioelectronics of the Feinstein Institute of Medical Research and of the Department of Molecular Medicine at the Hofstra / Northwell Medical School in New York published the results of the research in the journal of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (PNAS).
It was already known that the vagus nerve controls the production of cytokines, molecules that favor inflammation in many diseases. However, it has been unknown to date whether each different cytokine sends to the brain its own separate information about the state of the immune system and the inflammation. Dr. Zanos and his colleagues successfully succeeded in expressing the separate nervous systems that send two cytokines, IL-1β and TNF.
"Our findings," Zanos said to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA), "show that it is feasible to detect the specific signals of cytokines from the receptors of the body to the brain through the electrical signals that run through the vagus nerve. We will now use, in future bioelectronic studies, these methods of decoding the neural signals to decode the nerve signals of a wide variety of medical conditions. This is a key step in developing innovative diagnostic and therapeutic devices."
As he said, "these are the first steps of an effort we make to create technology that can diagnose specific diseases before their symptoms develop. The main new findings of the study are that the vagus nerve transmits coded information on certain inflammation-related and immune-related substances and that we can now record and decode them with a combination of surgical technique, electrodes and algorithms."
The significance of the new study, Zanos said to ANA, "is not only that these signals are detected for the first time, but also that we have created a methodology that we want to apply to other nerves and the brain, so in order to detect similar signs for other diseases other than those related to immune and inflammation. We already apply it to metabolic disorders such as diabetes. At the same time, collaborating workshops, such as that of my brother Stavros Zanos, who is also a professor at the Feinstein Institute, investigate ways to use the vagus nerve to treat cardiorespiratory and neurological diseases."
Bioelectronic medicine is an emerging field that combines neuroscience, molecular biology and biomechanics to exploit the nervous system to treat illness and wounds without the use of drugs. Already there are good indications that bioelectronic medicine can open new ways of dealing with rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, diabetes, paralysis, lupus erythematosus and others.
"Zano's findings are a breakthrough in the field of bioelectronics. For some time now we know that the nervous system communicates with the brain. Now we can learn the language he uses to communicate, which will allow us to help the body to heal itself, "said Kevin Tracy, chairman of the Feinstein Institute.