A new start-up is using special earbuds to channel electrical pulses into the outer ear to ‘hack’ into the brain’s neural circuits with the aim of treating disease.
The company, Nēsos, is targeting the vagus nerve, which connects the brain to key organs, with the aim of regulating inflammation and treating rheumatoid arthritis.
It’s producing some interesting results. In a study, 30 people with rheumatoid arthritis used the earbuds for a few minutes a day, for three months. By the end of the study, half of them had improved in a clinically meaningful way. More than half of those who had benefited showed a 20% improvement, a third improved by 50%, and a few patients experienced a 70% improvement.
The vagus nerve is popular with scientists as a means of treating stroke, heart failure, depression, and inflammatory problems but usually with surgically implanted devices with electrodes that directly touch the nerve fibres. This sends electrical impulses to the nerve to change the communication between neurons. However, the Nēsos earbuds are non-invasive and send impulses via the branch of the nerve located in the ear to brain regions that it’s believed regulate the body’s immune response.
The earbuds are being tested in clinical trials and will now be tested in people who suffer with post-natal depression and migraines. While there’s a long way to go before we can say for certain that these treat disease, it’s certainly an exciting approach – and it just goes to show the importance of the ears to more than hearing.
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