Electroceuticals—the use of electricity to change certain biological functions with the goal of treating diseases—have been around in some form for centuries. Historical accounts note that the Romans in the first century A.D. used torpedo fish treating headaches, making it one of the earliest recorded uses of electricity for medicinal purposes. Since then, electroceuticals have been used in a range of ways for a range of conditions—from something as commonplace as a pacemaker to newer wearable and implantable technologies.
In a new study published in the Nature Journal of Communications Biology, a research team from the University of Houston and the University of Wollongong in Australia studied an electroceutical (sutrode) that offered insight into how the nervous system and the spleen communicate with one another. The spleen is part of the lymphatic system, which helps the body fight infections.
Researchers built upon previous research conducted with their proprietary “sutrode,” an electrical stimulation device that could have a range of medical applications. The device combines the unique properties of an electrode and a suture in one. “The flexibility and superb sensitivity of the sutrode is allowing us to expand our understanding of how the nervous system controls main body organs, a critical step towards developing advanced therapies in bioelectronic medicines,” reports Romero-Ortega, the study’s lead author.
Specifically, researchers focused on vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), which has been shown to have a range of therapeutic benefits, such as reduced inflammation. This has led many to believe that electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve could benefit people with immune disorders or inflammatory conditions like irritable bowel disease (IBD) or arthritis, largely due to connections between the vagus nerve and the splenic nerve. However, the connection between VNS and activation of the splenic nerve has been less understood, until now. Given the spleen’s role in the immune system, stimulating nerves connected to the spleen could activate a range of immune benefits.
Overall findings from the study indicated the nerve terminals guiding splenic function, enable the team’s sutrode to act in a more targeted manner.