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Nerve Stimulation Shown to Reduce Diabetes Symptoms

Nerve cells in brain illustration


15 January 2018. Electric stimulation of a key nerve pathway was shown in lab animals to restore insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance typically missing in people with type 2 diabetes. A team from CEDOC Medical School in Lisbon, Portugal and the company Galvani Bioelectronics in Stevenage, U.K. report their findings in yesterday’s issue of the journal Diabetologia.

Researchers from the lab of CEDOC pharmacology and neuroscience professor Silvia Conde and Galvani Bioelectronics are seeking new therapies for diabetes, affecting growing numbers of people worldwide. Diabetes is a chronic disorder where the pancreas does not create enough insulin to process the sugar glucose to flow into the blood stream and cells for energy in the body. In type 2 diabetes, which accounts for at least 90 percent of all diabetes cases, the pancreas produces some but not enough insulin, or the body cannot process insulin. According to the International Diabetes Federation, diabetes affects an estimated 425 million people worldwide.

Conde and colleagues study the role played by carotid body, a sensor connected to the brain by the carotid sinus nerve. The carotid body is located where the carotid artery separates into two arteries on either side of the neck, and it monitors oxygen and CO2 levels, as well as regulates blood pressure and respiratory rate. Previous research by the CEDOC lab shows an overactive carotid body is linked to insulin resistance, and removing the carotid sinus nerve in lab animals prevents insulin resistance as well as high blood pressure.

Working with Galvani Bioelectronics, the CEDOC team developed a method of suppressing signals through the carotid sinus nerve with kilohertz frequency alternating currents, or KHFAC, an electronic current shown to block those signals. While removing the carotid sinus nerve may stop the signals, the nerve pathway plays other key functions in the body, thus the researchers are seeking techniques for controlling the signals rather than irreversibly shutting down the nerve.

The team tested the technique with lab rats fed a diabetes-inducing diet, high in fat and sugar. Electrodes were implanted in the carotid sinus nerves of the rats, with some of the animals randomly assigned to receive KHFAC stimulation through the electrodes, and the others receiving sham electric pulses. Insulin and glucose tolerance tests were given the rats, as well as respiratory and cardiac response measures.

The results show after 9 weeks, rats receiving the real KHFAC stimulation restored more insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance than rats receiving the sham pulses. In addition, 5 weeks after the end of KHFAC stimulation, insulin resistance and glucose intolerance returned to the rats, suggesting the stimulation treatments were temporary and reversible. The authors conclude KHFAC stimulation has potential for treating metabolic disorders such as diabetes.

Galvani Bioelectronics is a joint venture of drug maker GlaxoSmithKline and Alphabet, parent company of Google. As reported in Science & Enterprise at the time of the company’s founding in August 2016, Galvani plans to discover and develop implanted electronic devices that send signals along nerve pathways in the body addressing chronic diseases, noting tests with animals already show the technology’s potential with treating type 2 diabetes.

An international patent application was filed for the technology by Galvani Biolectronics and the university, with Conde and several co-authors listed as inventors.

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