UNM neurosurgeon administers experimental arthritis treatment to first New Mexico patient

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Sylvia Telles, 63, had been living with chronic pain for nearly two decades and was searching for answers in managing her rheumatoid arthritis.

"It’s a struggle because while grabbing a glass or a cup of coffee, your fingers hurt, your wrist hurts and your arms hurt," Telles said. "My feet, the same way."

In September, she said her prayers were answered. Dr. Heather Spader, a neurosurgeon at UNM, implanted a microstimulator inside Telles’s neck and her pain was gone.

"Me and my husband are taking our walks now without me hurting," Telles said. "I’m doing more yard work than I was doing."

The implant is attached to the vagal nerve, which is responsible for inflammatory responses in the human body.

"There’s one incision in the neck," Dr. Spader said. "It’s like a little coffee bean-type implant that you place in there and it can be removed if you have to – and you charge it with just a collar that you put on."

Dr. Spader said previous implants were more invasive and batteries needed to be changed periodically.

The treatment is currently in clinical trials and is not widely available yet. Researchers are also looking at how it can be used to treat epilepsy.