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Biotech Medicine Technology

Hacking Your Body Through a Nerve In Your Neck 82

agent elevator writes: IEEE Spectrum has a feature (part of its Hacking the Human OS issue) on the future of vagus nerve stimulation, a device-based therapy with the potential to treat a ridiculously wide variety of ailments: epilepsy, depression, stroke, tinnitus, heart failure, migraines, asthma, the list goes on. One problem is that, because it required an implant (a bit like a pacemaker), it was never anybody's first-choice therapy. But now there's a non-invasive version, a device you just hold to your neck twice a day for a few minutes. It's being trialed first for migraines and cluster headaches (which sound horrible). If it works, vagus nerve stimulation could compete directly with drug treatments on cost and convenience and it would let doctors find new ways to hack human physiology.
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Hacking Your Body Through a Nerve In Your Neck

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  • What could go wrong!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      WindowsCE on the implant?

    • "What could go wrong!"

      Louis Wu, is that you?

    • Re:I Mean, (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 29, 2015 @06:11PM (#49802295)

      I've had one. It felt like my entire nervous system was on fire, followed by aphasia, followed by the worst headache I've ever had, then loss of consciousness.

      When I came to, it felt like I had a hangover (not a terrible one, but bad enough).

  • but "vagus nerve stimulation" sounds erotic.
  • by Spy Handler ( 822350 ) on Friday May 29, 2015 @05:45PM (#49802125) Homepage Journal

    I hear medical breakthroughs like this all the time, where a cheap simple device will replace expensive drugs. Then nothing happens and it's not heard of again.

    Is it because A. it doesn't work as well as inventors hoped or has too many side effects, or B. pharma industry silences them by killing them or paying them to hush it up? Help me out here.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I'm more inclined to go with B. If they offered me several hundred million USD for my patents and to quietly go away, I'd give it some thought.

    • by Falos ( 2905315 )
      You don't need conspiracies to shut down a place, ISPs do it all the time. You can also jank up the barriers to entry, authorization, compliance, certification, auditing, what have you. Healthcare does it all the time so only $500 thermometers are allowed in the system.

      Unrefined method (see A) will stay unrefined. Us big boys will develop it, or if owned, will eventually buy what you (by design) can't leverage.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      more "related" to your B

      No conspiracy, big pharm and medical equipment companies will shy away from anything from which they can't exclusively profit. If they don't have incentive to promote it, they ignore it. They care about money, not health. I expect only in rare occasions will the drug companies actually try to bury something through lobbying Congress to outlaw it... but I don't know if this has ever happened (but I expect they will try when the cure for diabetes (discovered in a Canadian lab in Toront

      • by Anonymous Coward

        more "related" to your B

        No conspiracy, big pharm and medical equipment companies will shy away from anything from which they can't exclusively profit. If they don't have incentive to promote it, they ignore it. They care about money, not health. I expect only in rare occasions will the drug companies actually try to bury something through lobbying Congress to outlaw it... but I don't know if this has ever happened (but I expect they will try when the cure for diabetes (discovered in a Canadian lab in Toronto, c.2006) begins to obliterate the massive profit of insulin sales in the US).

        I will have to call Bullshit on that one , because in order to do that they would have to be able to outlaw drugs that have been FDA approved since the 1920s to the 1950s and are cheap (as in less than a dollar per dose.) This is a made up conspiracy theory with 0 basis in reality. Yes I am a type 1 diabetic who is involved in the research!

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      False dichotomy: The correct answer is (c) because of the abject, utter failure that is science "journalism."

      Reality of so many of these breakthroughs: "This chemical cocktail, when given to a mouse cell line that models a certain kind of human cancer, shows significant anti-cancer activity with lower than usual toxicity." This is good, keep on it folks.

      However, enter breathless reporting from jism-splattered keyboard: "Oh my god, scientists at $university make cancer-curing breakthrough that completely des

    • by angel'o'sphere ( 80593 ) on Friday May 29, 2015 @10:04PM (#49803277) Journal

      Everything that can be treated by "stimulating" the vagus nerve indicates that there is a problem with the vagus nerve. And that is in 99% of all cases a blockade/pressure by a muscle or sinew pressing on the nerve somewhere along the path that nerve is running.

      And that can be treated easily with:
      o heat
      o massage
      o simple herbal medicals like Camphor/Arnika
      o Tai Chi
      o Chi Gong
      o Osteopathy
      o Chiropractics
      o Shiatsu/Accu pressure massage

      Depending on where the blockade is and how difficult to treat it is.

      Main reasons are: very bad body posture and lack of sports and physical activity.

      I doubt an implant can long term fight against those two main reasons for illness/malfunction.

      Heck, even a simple dance class where people learn to relax the hips and stay erected with relaxed shoulders would likely solve more than 50% of the cases suffering from vagus nerve blockades.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Read the article.

      "British drug giant GlaxoSmithKline has been the most public with its support, even coining the term “electroceuticals” to describe the emerging therapies. “Our goal, basically, is to speak the electrical language of the nerves to achieve a higher treatment effect,” said Kristoffer Famm, head of bioelectronics research at GSK, in a recent interview. In 2013, GSK created a US $50 million venture capital arm, Action Potential Venture Capital, to fund electroceutical st

    • If it works, then why isn't Cuba using it?
      Therefore, I choose A.

  • if (headline contains "hack") clickbait_score++;
    if (headline contains "your") clickbait_score+=5;

  • Sounds promising (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    As someone who suffers from chronic near-continuous headaches that's a seemingly random mix of migraine, cluster, and tension for over 20 years (at least I dodged sinus - woohoo!), this is exciting. I had just started down the road of getting an implant in my neck/shoulder a while back - I was a good candidate but it got put on hold with switching insurance then decided to give another less invasive options another try.

    If I could ditch my medicines and their side effects as well as cut my pain, I would be

  • Long chain of stuff (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Impy the Impiuos Imp ( 442658 ) on Friday May 29, 2015 @05:58PM (#49802219) Journal

    I wonder if it can affect stress. There is some evidence gut bacteria feed stress-inducing whatever back up to the brain via this nerve, and that stress promotes abdominal (inside it) belly fat deposition, as opposed to more distributed body fat deposition, which in turn releases chemicals which cause insulin resistance, which is the main cause of Type II diabetes.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      This paper was published a couple of years ago. It's not stress, but it's related:
      There is definitely research happening about stress and VNS.

    • Interesting thing with this is that recent studies on stem cell communication shows that cells "age" and mutate when exposed to stress and inflamation. Which means this could also aid in longevity and reducing cancer activity in the body. I think there was an article on slashdot recently looking at a drug that combatted inflamation by the immune system in body tissues -- the two of these treatments together could be rather interesting.

  • I wonder if that would count as prior art if a patent is applied for.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'm skeptical! In general, one must be very cautious regarding medical modalities that claim to treat a broad spectrum of aliments. Sounds like something from the so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). Only large-scale, double-blinded clinical trials can distinguish treatments that work from those that don't.

    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      If alternative medicine worked then it would not be alternative medicine. It would just be, you know, medicine.

  • by dj245 ( 732906 ) on Friday May 29, 2015 @06:05PM (#49802253) Homepage
    Anyone smarter than me who can comment on if marijuana affects the vagus nerve? The list of ailments allegedly cured seems similar and both the vagus nerve and marijuana are not completely understood.
  • by ndykman ( 659315 ) on Friday May 29, 2015 @06:07PM (#49802259)

    Seriously, severe migraine sufferers and those who suffer from cluster headaches need all the tools we can give them. As noted, if you really read about cluster headaches, it is truly shocking. It is noted sufferers are at a high risk for suicide; after I read what they go through, I was surprised that it is not even higher.

    I suffered from migraines, but on the mild to moderate scale. I was lucky, I found a preventative regimen that works very, very well for me. For those with more severe cases, I do hope this is a successful treatment option.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 29, 2015 @06:40PM (#49802445)

      Sorry for this being buried down at 0, but I've had two episodes of cluster headaches, so I can report on what that's like.

      It's the worst pain I've ever experienced, and that's including things like broken bones and accidental burns. The word "headache" isn't really appropriate because most people think of those normal headaches which are annoying and unpleasant but leave you able to function if you need to. It's not even like a migraine - just a whole different order of magnitude.

      In a cluster headache, the only thing in your entire world, the only thing that matters at all, is for it to stop. In the moment, I'd have gladly traded decades off my lifespan in exchange for making it stop. Thankfully I haven't had an episode in many years. But I understand well how people who have it happen routinely would consider suicide as an alternative to that.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 29, 2015 @07:14PM (#49802629)

        Oh, another thing I remembered in addition to my comment above: the "cluster" nature makes them worse in a way. There's no way to sleep, so you will be awake as long as the episode lasts. But one will hit, and then fade. When it faded I was exhausted (plus it was 3am or something) and needed to sleep, but just as I'd start to drift off, it was like suddenly someone rammed a knife up inside my sinus passages and behind my eye. And it starts over again. You have no idea how many times it will happen.

        Some people sit and hold their head and rock back and forth. All I could do was squeeze my head, wail, and pace frantically back and forth across the room, for some reason.

      • Want to be truly outraged? Google LSD and cluster headache and follow the rabbit down the hole.
        • by sudon't ( 580652 )

          Psilocybin is also supposed to be helpful. Unfortunately, people experience euphoria as a side-effect, so it must be banned.

  • Laugh (Score:5, Funny)

    by koan ( 80826 ) on Friday May 29, 2015 @06:12PM (#49802299)

    What happens in vagus stays in vagus.

  • Hmm (Score:5, Informative)

    by koan ( 80826 ) on Friday May 29, 2015 @06:14PM (#49802313)

    In 1997, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of VNS as an adjunctive therapy for partial-onset epilepsy. In 2005, the FDA approved the use of VNS for treatment-resistant depression.[2]

    Although the use of VNS for refractory depression has been endorsed by the American Psychiatric Association, the FDA's approval of VNS for refractory depression remains controversial. According to Dr. A. John Rush, vice chairman for research in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, results of the VNS pilot study showed that 40 percent of the treated patients displayed at least a 50 percent or greater improvement in their condition, according to the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale.[3][4] Many other studies concur that VNS is indeed efficacious in treating depression. However, these findings do not take into account improvements over time in patients without the device. In the only randomized controlled trial VNS failed to perform any better when turned on than in otherwise similar implanted patients whose device was not turned on.[5] []

    • I heard a story about a nun who had anorgasmia- meaning she couldn't experience pleasure of any sort (not just sexual). Someone did VNS surgery on her and had the implant send pulses to her pleasure center. That produced major changes- she was super happy, quit being a nun, decided to become a prostitute, and went to Venezuela(?). Eventually her pleasure center couldn't take being hammered by electricity anymore and she started to find it annoying. Eventually she had them remove it.
    • You bolded the wrong section there chief.

  • It's called a droud, people.
    Wireheads will be the new junkies, no need to leave the house or meet a dealer, just plug it in. []

  • Would be nice (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ArylAkamov ( 4036877 ) on Friday May 29, 2015 @06:16PM (#49802325)

    This would be nice but I don't have much hope for it, there are endless new "devices" like these that don't do jack shit.

    Sounds terrible though. My girlfriend works in a headache center oddly enough, the stories I hear at the end of the day are disturbing.

    Two of their patients have committed suicide in the last month, drug overdose.

  • by Sepiraph ( 1162995 ) on Friday May 29, 2015 @06:22PM (#49802351)
    Actually it makes a lot of sense since the nerves on the neck have lot of "bandwidth" already and getting access there is a lot less invasive than opening up the head to get at the brain (until we get better at Brain-Machine Interface but that really does seem a lot harder than "hacking" at the neck).
  • Remember Bush choking on a pretzel?

    That was supposedly due to vagus nerve stimulation. []

  • Sure gives a new meaning to BSOD.

  • Perhaps there's something to chiropractic adjustments, after all. o_0
  • Huge grain of salt (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Cytotoxic ( 245301 ) on Friday May 29, 2015 @11:39PM (#49803547)

    Any time a single device (or drug, or supplement, or treatment) purports to treat a wide variety of seemingly unrelated ailments, your first instinct should be heavy skepticism. Also, when a device purports to work for ailments that have soft endpoints and are amenable to placebo effect, you should evaluate any study carefully. The literature is filled with studies that purport to show promising results, only to collapse when more rigorous methods are applied.

    epilepsy, depression, stroke, tinnitus, heart failure, migraines, asthma,

    With the exception of stroke and heart failure, this is a list of ailments that are commonly targeted by scam medicine, because they are conditions that will often be self-reported as improved no matter what the intervention. When more rigorous measurements are applied, these effects tend to evaporate.

    Let's hope it works, but let's look for some well done studies too.

  • Finally, they found a way to make my HBI (Human Brain Interface) possible. No more IBM model M for me! Where do I apply?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I average roughly two a month, they typically last six hours.

    Sumatriptan is the greatest invention of all time. It works, with very few side effects, as long as you take it before the migraine starts.

    After the migraine starts (for example, if you wake up in the night with one already in progress) you'll need hard core painkillers. These are addictive and some people use them for fun (migraineurs pretty much never do, because we need them to function at full effectiveness).

    The for-profit prison industry is

  • I came to this page specifically to see how close to the top the reference to Mr Spock appeared. Alas, it seems I'm the first to mention it. What's happening to Slashdot???

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