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These brain-stimulating earbuds could ease pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis

As opioids continue to take a toll on Americans, public health officials are looking for alternatives. One avenue of exploration, especially for chronic pain, is stimulating parts of the brain with electricity.

A company called Nēsos is exploring the use of an earbud that would send an electrical current through the inner ear in an effort to reduce inflammation and pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that causes joints to swell and bones to wear down. An electrical current travels through the auricular branch of the vagus nerve and ultimately targets a pathway in the brain that controls inflammation. The results of its first feasibility study are being published later this year in a leading medical journal.

“We do know through published research over the years that this [neural] pathway atrophies or kind of gets a little bit out of whack early in the disease process,” says Nēsos founder Konstantinos Alataris. “So the brain stops sending the signal to control inflammation and what we’re trying to do is retune or restore that system.”

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