Life’s Realities Inspire Dr. Kevin Tracey to New Discovery

After experiencing two significant deaths, Dr. Kevin Tracey was motivated to embrace reality. He was compelled to explore something unorthodox—bioelectronics. The first death was that of his mother, which propelled him to become a neurosurgeon. The second was that of an 11-month-old baby girl, Janice, who arrived at the ER with burns covering 75% of her body. After Janice spent 3 weeks recovering in the hospital, Dr. Tracey joined Janice’s family to celebrate her first birthday. The next day, Janice died. When the autopsy report was inconclusive, Dr. Tracey felt “haunted” by her case and turned his focus to medical research.

Dr. Tracey began researching inflammation related to sepsis, which occurs when the immune system goes into overdrive and produces an often-lethal inflammatory response. He conjectured that this may have been the cause of Janice’s sudden death, but found that the baby did not have an infection that could have triggered this specific kind of response. Tracey then discovered that the baby had an overproduction of tumor necrosis factor (TNF), which caused the inflammation that led to Janice’s fatal septic shock.1

Puzzled and intrigued by this, he began to explore possible neural connections between the brain and the immune system. Building on the research of his colleague, Dr. Linda Watkins, which described the vagus nerve as the conduit through which the body sends signals to the brain to induce fever, Dr. Tracey began to test an anti-inflammatory drug he had been working on. First, he gave a toxin known to cause inflammation to mice and then injected small amounts of the anti-inflammatory drug into their brains. Not surprisingly, the drug did exactly what it was meant to—it halted the production of TNF in the brains of these mice; however, he was surprised to find that it also stopped production of TNF in their bodies.

When he cut the vagus nerve, Dr. Tracey discovered that the drug had no regulatory effect on the levels of TNF in the body, proving that the signal from the drug had to be passing from the nerve into the body. With this realization, he began to wonder if there might be a way to send signals to the body through the brain without using the drug, a question about which he said: “there was nothing in scientific thinking that said electricity would do anything. It was anathema to logic. Nobody thought it would work.”

Dr. Tracey spent 11 years studying the neural pathways of TNF inflammation, mapping a route that extended from the vagus nerve to the spleen and to the bloodstream. He chose to look forward and not be discouraged. After mapping this electrical circuit to treat inflammation, he developed a bioelectronic device that could be implanted onto the vagus nerve during a 20-minute operation. Once activated, this device sends electrical impulses directly to the immune system, essentially controlling and limiting the production of cytokines (molecules involved in inflammation).

This device, which can be charged and updated by patients and doctors using an iPad, is a prime example of a physician’s choice to be challenged, embrace reality and look to the future. Acknowledging the potential for this technology, GlaxoSmithKline, one of the world’s leading research-based pharmaceutical and healthcare companies, launched a $50 million venture capital fund to invest in bioelectronic research and technologies like those championed by Dr. Tracey. Although the field of bioelectronics is in its early stages, it is GSK’s hope “to have the first medicine that speaks the electrical language of our body ready for approval by the end of this decade.” “We want to help create the medicines of the future and be the catalyst for this work,” said Moncef Slaoui, chairman of R&D and architect of GSK’s early-stage investment strategy.2

Like those at GSK, REALITYRx envisions a future in which physicians and patients have access to advanced medicine. Partnering with the healthcare sector, REALITYRx is committed to developing brand stories and effectively launching them in the marketplace. We care about the technologies and medicines that have been developed by you with passion, and then perfected with persistence and teamwork. We at REALITYRx are uncompromising when it comes to crafting a brand story that will remain in the forefront of the medical imagination, and are dedicated to providing your product with the dose of reality it deserves.

References: 1. Behar M. (2014, May 23). Can the nervous system be hacked? Retrieved August 26, 2014. 2. GSK launches $50 million venture capital fund to invest in pioneering bioelectronic medicines and technologies. (2013, August 8). Retrieved August 26, 2014.

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