Brain ‘talks’ directly to body’s immune system

November 14th, 2007 - 2:50 am ICT by admin  
Dr. Kevin Tracey, director and chief executive of the institute, says that understanding the intimate relationship between the brain and the immune system is leading to a novel way to treat diseases triggered by a dangerous inflammatory response.

He has revealed that clinical trials are being conducted to test the theory that stimulation of the vagus nerve could block a rogue inflammatory response and treat a number of diseases, including life-threatening sepsis.

Scientists believe that the new understanding of the vagus nerve’s role in regulating inflammation may enable them to tap into the body’s natural healing defences, and to calm the sepsis storm before it wipes out its victims.

Sepsis is triggered by the body’s own overpowering immune response to a systemic infection, and hospitals are the battlegrounds for these potentially lethal conditions.

The vagus nerve is located in the brainstem, and snakes down from the brain to the heart and on through to the abdomen.

Dr. Tracey is now researching into ways of altering the brain’s response or targeting the immune system itself as a way to control diseases.

He has revealed that more than two decades ago, he was treating a young girl whose body had been accidentally scorched by boiling water. He said that the girl fighting for her life to overcome sepsis, but she did not make it.

Dr. Tracey headed into the laboratory to figure out why the body makes its own cells that can do fatal damage. He discovered that the vagus nerve speaks directly to the immune system through a neurochemical called acetylcholine.

He also found that stimulating the vagus nerve sent commands to the immune system to stop pumping out toxic inflammatory markers.

“This was so surprising to us,” said Dr. Tracey, who immediately saw the potential to use vagus stimulation as a way to shut off abnormal immune system responses. He calls this network “the inflammatory reflex”.

He is now studying whether tweaking the brain’s acetylcholine system could be a natural way to control the inflammatory response.

Dr. Tracey has already presented his work to the Dalai Lama, who has shown a great interest in the neurosciences and the mind-body connection.

He has also written a book about the double-edge sword of the immune system, which is called ‘Fatal Sequence’. (ANI)

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