[GRG] ‘Tickling’ your ear could improve heart function


Contact: Chris Bunting
University of Leeds

‘Tickling’ your ear could be good for your heart

Stimulating nerves in your ear could improve the health of your
heart, researchers have discovered.

A team at the University of Leeds used a standard TENS machine like
those designed to relieve labour pains to apply electrical pulses
to the tragus, the small raised flap at the front of the ear
immediately in front of the ear canal.

The stimulation changed the influence of the nervous system on the
heart by reducing the nervous signals that can drive failing hearts
too hard.

Professor Jim Deuchars, Professor of Systems Neuroscience in the
University of Leeds’ Faculty of Biological Sciences, said: “You
feel a bit of a tickling sensation in your ear when the TENS
machine is on, but it is painless. It is early days—so far we have
been testing this on healthy subjects—but we think it does have
potential to improve the health of the heart and might even become
part of the treatment for heart failure.”

The researchers applied electrodes to the ears of 34 healthy people
and switched on the TENS (Transcutaneous electrical nerve
stimulation) machines for 15-minute sessions. They monitored the
variability of subjects’ heartbeats and the activity of the part of
the nervous system that drives the heart. Monitoring continued for
15 minutes after the TENS machine was switched off.

Lead researcher Dr Jennifer Clancy, of the University of Leeds’
School of Biomedical Sciences, said: “The first positive effect we
observed was increased variability in subjects’ heartbeats. A
healthy heart does not beat like a metronome. It is continually
interacting with its environment—getting a little bit faster or a
bit slower depending on the demands on it. An unhealthy heart is
more like a machine constantly banging out the same beat. We found
that when you stimulate this nerve you get about a 20% increase in
heart rate variability.”

The second positive effect was in suppressing the sympathetic
nervous system, which drives heart activity using adrenaline.

Dr Clancy said: “We measured the nerve activity directly and found
that it reduced by about 50% when we stimulated the ear. This is
important because if you have heart disease or heart failure, you
tend to have increased sympathetic activity. This drives your heart
to work hard, constricts your arteries and causes damage. A lot of
treatments for heart failure try to stop that sympathetic
activity—beta-blockers, for instance, block the action of the
hormones that implement these signals. Using the TENS, we saw a
reduction of the nervous activity itself.”

The researchers found significant residual effects, with neither
heart rate variability or sympathetic nerve activity returning to
the baseline 15 minutes after the TENS machine had been switched

The technique works by stimulating a major nerve called the vagus,
which has an important role in regulating vital organs such as the
heart. There is a sensory branch of the vagus in the outer ear and,
by sending electrical current down the nerves and into the brain,
researchers were able to influence outflows from the brain that
regulate the heart. Vagal nerve stimulation has previously been
used to treat conditions including epilepsy.

Professor Deuchars said: “We now need to understand how big and how
lasting the residual effect on the heart is and whether this can
help patients with heart problems, probably alongside their usual
treatments. The next stage will be to conduct a pre-clinical study
in heart failure patients.”


The research is published today in the journal Brain Stimulation
and was funded by the University of Leeds.

Further information

Professor Deuchars and Dr Clancy are available for interview.

Contact: Chris Bunting, Senior Press Officer, University of Leeds;
phone: +44 113 343 2049 or email c.j.bunting@leeds.ac.uk.

The full paper: Jennifer A. Clancy et al., ‘Non-invasive vagus
nerve stimulation in healthy humans reduces sympathetic nerve
activity’ is published in Brain Stimulation (DOI
10.1016/j.brs.2014.07.031). Copies of the paper are available on
request to members of the media from the University of Leeds press

Images of the device in use and other content is available at:

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About Johnny Adams

My full-time commitment is to slow and ultimately reverse age related functional decline to increase healthy years of life. I’ve been active in this area since the 1970s, steadily building skills and accomplishments. I have a good basic understanding of the science of aging, and have many skills that complement those of scientists so they can focus on science to advance our shared mission. Broad experience Top skills: administration, management, information technology (data and programming), communications, writing, marketing, market research and analysis, public speaking, forging ethical win-win outcomes among stakeholders (i.e. high level "selling"). Knowledge in grant writing, fundraising, finance. Like most skilled professionals, I’m best described as a guy who defines an end point, then figures out how to get there. I enjoy the conception, design, execution and successful completion of a grand plan. Executive Director Gerontology Research Group (GRG). Manages Email discussion forum, web site, meetings and oversees supercentenarian (oldest humans, 110+ years) research. CEO / Executive Director Carl I. Bourhenne Medical Research Foundation (Aging Intervention Foundation), an IRS approved 501(c)(3) nonprofit. http://www.AgingIntervention.org Early contributor to Supercentenarian Research Foundation. Co-Founder Geroscience Healthspan Forum. Active contributor to numerous initiatives to increase healthy years of life. Co-authored book on conventional, practical methods available today to slow the processes of aging – nutrition, exercise, behavior modification and motivation, stress reduction, proper supplementation, damage caused by improper programs, risk reduction and others. Fundamental understanding of, and experience in the genomics of longevity (internship analyzing and curating longevity gene papers). Biological and technical includes information technology, software development and computer programming, bioinformatics and protein informatics, online education, training programs, regulatory, clinical trials software, medical devices (CAT scanners and related), hospital electrical equipment testing program. Interpersonal skills – good communication, honest, well liked, works well in teams or alone. Real world experience collaborating in interdisciplinary teams in fast paced organizations. Uses technology to advance our shared mission. Education: MBA 1985 University of Southern California -- Deans List, Albert Quon Community Service Award (for volunteering with the American Longevity Association and helping an elderly lady every other week), George S. May Scholarship, CA State Fellowship. BA psychology, psychobiology emphasis 1983 California State University Fullerton Physiological courses as well as core courses (developmental, abnormal etc). UCLA Psychobiology 1978, one brief but fast moving and fulfilling quarter. Main interest was the electrochemical basis of consciousness. Also seminars at the NeuroPsychiatric Institute. Other: Ongoing conferences, meetings and continuing education. Aging, computer software and information technology. Some molecular biology, biotech, bio and protein informatics, computer aided drug design, clinical medical devices, electronics, HIPAA, fundraising through the Assoc. of Fundraising Professionals. Previous careers include: Marketing Increasing skill set and successes in virtually all phases, with valuable experience in locating people and companies with the greatest need and interest in a product or service, and sitting across the table with decision makers and working out agreements favorable to all. Information Technology: Management, data analysis and programming in commercial and clinical trials systems, and bioinformatics and protein informatics. As IT Director at Newport Beach, CA based technology organization Success Family of Continuing Education Companies, provided online software solutions for insurance and financial professionals in small to Fortune 500 size companies. We were successful with lean team organization (the slower moving competition was unable to create similar software systems). Medical devices: At Omnimedical in Paramount CA developed and managed quality assurance dept. and training depts. for engineers, physicians and technicians. Designed hospital equipment testing program for hospital services division. In my early 20’s I was a musician, and studied psychology and music. Interned with the intention of becoming a music therapist. These experiences helped develop valuable skills used today to advance our shared mission of creating aging solutions.
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