Vagus Nerve Society Meeting Finds That the Body's Superhighway the Vagus Nerve Has an Impact on Many Diseases

​With speakers and attendees from around the world, the inaugural meeting of the Vagus Nerve Society (VNSociety) held at the Royal college of Physicians in November was a 'stimulating' introduction to the world of the vagus nerve. Sometimes challenging and always intriguing, the sessions provided an overview of the developing science of the vagus nerve and its role in gastroenterology, neurology, psychiatry, pain, cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease, inflammation and many other medical specialities. Particularly interesting were the links made between the gut and the brain, with reference to recent research on the microbiome.

The speakers included world leaders in VNS1 including Professors from Harvard, University of California, Thomas Jefferson, UCLH, Imperial and Barts. The morning presentations explored the science at pre-clinical level, much of which was entirely new.

In the afternoon the meeting focused on the potential clinical applications of stimulation of the vagus nerve, with overviews of the positive effects seen in clinical trials and real-world use, particularly in epilepsy, gastroparesis, inflammatory bowel disease, and in the treatment and prevention of migraine and cluster headache.

Much work to date has used implanted vagal nerve stimulators, but recent studies and experience show that stimulation through the skin with a hand held device is less invasive and just as effective and safe, with lower costs and greater convenience.

The growing interest in the vagal nerve, and in its role in health and disease was underlined by the eminent audience of over a hundred scientists and clinicians from nearly all the major universities and medical schools from across Britain. One of the key take home messages from the meeting was that this is an area of interest, and in order to explore it further, researchers need to talk with people outside their disciplines. Physicians also need to look beyond their therapeutic areas to see whether patients really have a single disease, or whether that headache patient also has IBS and backache, pointing to something that needs to be viewed more broadly.

1 Professor Imanuel Lerman, Assistant Professor of Anesthesia at the University of California

Professor Cenk Ayata, Associate Professor of Neurology and Radiology at Harvard Medical School

Professor Adam Farmer, Consultant Gastroenterologist at Barts and Royal London School of Medicine

Dr Nader Youssef, (Chief Medical Officer) electroCore  

Professor Stephen Silberstein, Director of the Headache Centre at Thomas Jefferson University 

Professor Owen Epstein, Professor of Gastroenterology at the Royal Free London

Professor Clive Page, Professor of Pharmacology at King’s College London
Mr Bruce Simon, (Vice President) electroCore

Professor Bruno Bonaz, Director of Stress and Neuro-digestive Interactions (SIND) at the Clinique Universitaire d'Hépato-Gastroentérologie 

Dr James Ward, GP at Oaklands Health Centre, Yorkshire

Mr Mike Farrar CBE, Independent management consultant

The Vagus nerve

The vagus nerve is the 10th cranial nerve, or the Wandering Nerve (vagus is Latin for wandering) extending from the brain stem all the way to the viscera with a number of branching nerves to the heart, lungs, voice box, stomach, and ears, among other organs.

It contains motor and sensory fibers and, because it passes through the neck and thorax to the abdomen, has the widest distribution in the body. Because it is so important it is often referred to as the neural superhighway.


The VNSociety is a global, not-for-profit organization, which promotes the use of vagus nerve stimulation as an effective and safe therapy in the treatment of a number of medical conditions through a program of advocacy and education.