When your body senses injury or disease, it activates its defense systems. This can be helpful as it increases blood supply to affected areas and sends out specialized cells to attack invaders. This response can be a problem, however, when you have a chronic disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, diabetes, heart disease, or multiple sclerosis. The body’s inflammation reaction can actually cause additional damage over prolonged periods, so it would be useful to have a way to turn this mechanism off when it is not needed. By halting the inflammation, the body can actually have a better chance to heal itself.

SetPoint Medical is a company that is addressing this problem. The inflammatory reflex is triggered by signals sent by the brain through the vagus nerve. By stimulating the nerve artificially, it can suppress the reflex, and stop the damage it can cause. The SetPoint researchers have developed an implantable capsule that directly stimulates the vagus nerve; the capsule is configured and controlled using a tablet computer. In a test with eight patients who have rheumatoid arthritis, six had improved symptoms and two had complete remission.

The company is conducting clinical trials with human subjects, and expect that the device will be helpful in a variety of conditions, including autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s disease.