A tiny implant can end the crippling pain of rheumatoid arthritis.
Breakthrough medical trials of the electronic device bring hope of a cure to 400,000 UK sufferers and millions of others worldwide.
Test patient Monique Robroek’s condition was so bad that she could hardly walk across the room due to crippling pain.
Even the strongest drugs available did little to ease the excruciating discomfort she was forced to endure every day.
But today, the stunned office worker told how a “magic” new electronic implant has cured her by eradicating the pain.
Dutch patient Monique, who took part in ground-breaking medical trials, said: “Within six weeks I felt no pain – the swelling has now gone.
“I have my normal life back. I go biking, walk the dog and drive my car.”
Hailing the pioneering pacemaker-style device, she will tell Sky News today: “It is like magic.”
The incredible discovery could pave the way for patients diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis to effectively be cured within a decade.
Researchers in the Dutch trials are celebrating after “more than half” of their test patients saw their condition dramatically improve.
The breakthrough will bring hope to hundreds of thousands of rheumatoid arthritis sufferers in Britain.
Doctors embed the implant into the neck and use it to hack into a patient’s nervous system. The tiny device – the size of a 5p piece – sends electrical impulses into a major nerve which relays brain signals to the body’s major organs.
By firing impulses for just three minutes a day, scientists were able to reduce the activity of the spleen, a key organ in the immune system.
Within days of the trials in Holland, patients’ spleens were producing fewer chemicals that cause the abnormal inflammation in the joints of people with rheumatoid arthritis.
Monqiue, who has now stopped taking her old medication, revealed she took part in the research because she did not want to take pills for the rest of her life.
All she does now is wave a magnet over the device – fitted under her collarbone a year ago – to switch it on.
Pain-free Monique, in her 40s, added: “I now have more power in my hands.”
Around 400,000 people in Britain suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. It is an auto-immune disease which means the body wrongly attacks the cells that line the joints.
This causes pain, swelling and stiffness, most commonly in the hands, feet and wrists, which damages the joint itself, the cartilage and bone.
Experts said people are at an increased risk if they have a family history of the chronic condition, are smokers, or are female.
The latest findings are expected to be published early next year. Researchers believe the techniques used could reverse other conditions.
It could see similar implants preventing the airway spasms of asthma, controlling the appetite in obese people and restoring normal insulin production for diabetes sufferers.
And in the long term, they think they could also control neuropsychiatric disorders such as Parkinson’s and epilepsy.
Professor Paul-Peter Tak, a rheumatologist at the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam – where 20 patients took part in the trials – said: “It is very appealing to patients as they do not want to take medicines for 30 to 40 years. It is also restoring the natural balance in the body.
“Even in patients who have failed everything, including the most modern pharmaceuticals, we’ve seen clear improvement. We may achieve remission in 20 to 30% of patients, which would be a huge step forward in treating rheumatoid arthritis.”
The implant has been developed by British drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline. It has invested £32million in bioelectronic technology – medicines that use electrical impulses to influence the body’s nerves.
GSK’s Kris Famm, who helped lead the research, said: “I hope in 10 years, if you or I had diabetes, we could go to the doctor and they would introduce this sort of device on to the nerve that controls that balance. It becomes your treatment instead of insulin injections or pills.
“This is quite a big step forward from pacemakers and defibrillators.”
GSK is now also developing a miniature version of the pulse generator which will be the size of a grain of rice.
Judi Rhys, chief executive of charity Arthritis Care, said tonight: “News of this new treatment is extremely welcome.
“We would though sound a note of caution – the sample size in the research was very small and the findings have not yet been published in a medical journal.
“We also have no idea how long it would be before people with rheumatoid arthritis could actually access the treatment.”