brainstorm.jpgInnovative Metabolics, a Boston developer of neuromodulation systems for “chronic disease,” raised $5.5 million in a first funding round, VentureWire reports (subscription required). The round was led by Morgenthaler Ventures, which was joined by Foundation Medical Partners.

Although the company apparently still wants to keep a low profile, it’s not too hard to make an educated guess at what it might be up to. In January, Innovative Metabolics paid $500,000 and an unspecified number of preferred shares to Critical Therapeutics to license technology for stimulating the vagus nerve.

From the Critical Therapeutics press release:

Innovative Metabolics is a privately held company founded by two of Critical Therapeutics’ co-founders, Kevin J. Tracey, M.D. and H. Shaw Warren, M.D. In 2002, Dr. Tracey and a team of researchers at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research (formerly the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Research Institute) discovered a pathway for the anti-inflammatory signal between the brain and major organs such as the heart, stomach, liver and small intestine. As part of this discovery, the Feinstein Institute secured intellectual property directed to both therapeutic and device approaches of stimulating this anti-inflammatory pathway. The discovery of this pathway was published in the December 2002 issue of Nature. Critical Therapeutics licensed patent rights related to the modulation of this pathway by pharmacologic agents and vagal nerve stimulation from the Feinstein Institute in 2003.

In addition, there’s this recent abstract from a paper Kevin Tracey published earlier this year in the Journal of Clinical Investigation:

Cytokine production by the immune system contributes importantly to both health and disease. The nervous system, via an inflammatory reflex of the vagus nerve, can inhibit cytokine release and thereby prevent tissue injury and death. The efferent neural signaling pathway is termed the cholinergic antiinflammatory pathway. Cholinergic agonists inhibit cytokine synthesis and protect against cytokine-mediated diseases. Stimulation of the vagus nerve prevents the damaging effects of cytokine release in experimental sepsis, endotoxemia, ischemia/reperfusion injury, hemorrhagic shock, arthritis, and other inflammatory syndromes. Herein is a review of this physiological, functional anatomical mechanism for neurological regulation of cytokine-dependent disease that begins to define an immunological homunculus.

Translated, this excerpt suggests that Tracey — presumably, along with the company he co-founded — believes he’s discovered a way to tamp down inflammatory disease of the organs by stimulating the vagus nerve in a particular way. Of course, it’s not at all clear which conditions Innovative Metabolics is hoping to treat — if I had to guess at this point, I’d probably pick something that’s not even among the conditions listed in that abstract, such as inflammatory bowel disease.

In any case, all this is further proof that neuromodulation is a pretty hot area. For instance, I wrote about another company planning to use vagus-nerve interference to curb obesity here. Others are at work on related devices that could treat epilepsy, sleep apnea or hypertension.