Stimulating the vagus nerve, one of the body's longest nerves that stretches from the brain to the neck, chest and abdomen, reduces the symptoms of arthritis and lowers the biological markers of the disease.
Other chronic inflammatory diseases could also be treated with electro-stimulation of the vagus nerve, say researchers from Stanford University.
They tested a new device, the MicroRegulator, on a group of 14 RA sufferers who hadn't been helped by conventional treatment. They were treated either with a 'dummy' device or had the stimulation once or four times a day, for 12 weeks. At the end of the trial, those who had the stimulation once a day showed the best response, with biological markers down by 30 per cent. They also said their symptoms had improved.
"This is a really exciting development. For many patients suffering from RA, current treatments don't work, or aren't tolerated. These results open the door to a novel approach to treating not only RA, but other chronic inflammatory diseases," said Prof Thomas at the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR).