PAH, a disease of the pulmonary vessels that causes heart failure and death, is a form of a broader condition known as pulmonary hypertension or high blood pressure in the vessels of the lungs. PAH is caused by narrowing of the arteries that carry blood from the heart to the lungs for oxygenation and often leads to heart failure and death.
Current treatments for PAH include several classes of drugs that target signaling pathways in vascular biology and cardiovascular physiology. They can have severe unwanted side effects, and the treatment does not typically stop the progression of the disease.
Bioelectronic medicine is an emerging approach to treat and diagnose disease and injury using device technology to modulate the electrical activity within the body's nervous system. In particular, vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) has been studied for the treatment of cardiovascular disorders like arrhythmias, heart failure and arterial hypertension and could be used to treat PAH.
"VNS has proven, positive effects on suppressing inflammation and restoring homeostatic autonomic balance within the body," said Dr. Zanos. "There is a need to explore bioelectronic medicine as a way to normalize the function of the heart and the pulmonary vessels to provide treatment alternatives for PAH and help thousands of patients with this disease."
Stimulating the vagus nerve produces pulmonary vasodilation, or widening of blood vessels in the lung, suppresses inflammation and restores autonomic balance, all of them being desirable effects in patients with PAH. Dr. Zanos explains that physiological studies of preclinical animal models of PAH point to potential therapeutic effects of VNS and warrant further investigations.
"Knowing that current PAH pharmacological treatments have adverse side effects and fail to treat the disease itself, Dr. Zanos highlights the need to continue producing knowledge about bioelectronic medicine's potential to treat PAH," said Kevin J. Tracey, MD, president and CEO of the Feinstein Institutes.
About the Feinstein Institutes The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research is the research arm of Northwell Health, the largest health care provider and private employer in New York. Home to 50 research labs, 2,500 clinical research studies and 4,000 researchers and staff, the Feinstein Institutes is raising the standard of medical innovation through its five institutes of behavioral science, bioelectronic medicine, cancer, health innovations and outcomes, and molecular medicine. We're making breakthroughs in genetics, oncology, brain research, mental health, autoimmunity, and bioelectronic medicine – a new field of science that has the potential to revolutionize medicine. For more information about how we're producing knowledge to cure disease, visit feinstein.northwell.edu.