It used to be dogma that the brain was shut away from the actions of the immune system, shielded from the outside forces of nature. But thats not how it is at all. In fact, thanks to the scientific detective work of Kevin Tracey, MD, it turns out that the brain talks directly to the immune system, sending commands that control the bodys inflammatory response to infection and autoimmune diseases. Understanding the intimate relationship is leading to a novel way to treat diseases triggered by a dangerous inflammatory response.
Dr. Tracey, director and chief executive of The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, will be giving the 2007 Stetten Lecture on Wednesday, Oct. 24, at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD. His talk Physiology and Immunology of the Cholinergic Anti-inflammatory Pathway will highlight the discoveries made in his laboratory and the clinical trials underway 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.
With this new understanding of the vagus nerves role in regulating inflammation, scientists believe that they can tap into the bodys natural healing defenses and calm the sepsis storm before it wipes out its victims. Each year, 750,000 people in the United States develop severe sepsis, and 215,000 will die no matter how hard doctors fight to save them. Sepsis is triggered by the bodys 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 and others are now studying ways of altering the brains response or targeting the immune system itself as a way to control diseases.
Dr. Tracey is a neurosurgeon who came into research through the back door of the operating room
|Contact: Jamie Talan|
North Shore-Long Island Jewish (LIJ) Health System