A daily zap of electricity could make arthritic joints less painful for hundreds of thousands of Britons. Some patients even went into complete remission, meaning they were effectively cured.
Scientists implanted a device into patients’ necks to gave a small shock that activates a nerve involved in controlling the immune system.
Switched on for as little as a minute a day, it significantly reduced the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, which develops when the immune system attacks the joints by mistake.
The coin-sized gadget provided relief for some sufferers for whom no drugs have worked.
One woman, who had been in so much pain that she struggled to walk across the room, said “I have my normal life back. I go biking, walk the dog and drive my car. It is like magic.”
One of the most common forms of the disease, rheumatoid arthritis affects 400,000 Britons.
The wrists, fingers, toes, ankles and knees are particularly susceptible, with women three times as likely to be affected as men.
Drugs do not work for everyone, can cost thousands of pounds a year, and are linked to side-effects including a higher risk of heart attacks and strokes.
An implant is expected to be cheaper and, it is hoped, safer. Dutch researcher Professor Paul-Peter Tak, of the University of Amsterdam, tested the device on 17 patients. Once in place, it generated tiny electric shocks for one to four minutes a day.
These activated the vagus nerve, which connects the brain to the major organs, to prevent production of the immune system chemicals behind rheumatoid arthritis.
Symptoms were slashed by half for almost 60 per cent of those treated, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports.
There were no major side-effects, although patients felt a slight tingling and their voice trembled when the device was switched on. Professor Tak said “This will revolutionise how we think about treatment.”