After promising results with a first patient, US scientists believe an electrical implant that sits in the skull and is wired to the brain can detect and treat severe depression.Sarah, 36, had the device implanted more than a year ago and claims it has changed her life.
The matchbox-sized pack in her head is always “on,” but it only sends out an impulse when it senses she might need it.The experimental study is described in the journal Nature Medicine.
The researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, emphasise that it is too early to say whether it will help other patients with difficult-to-treat depression, such as Sarah, but they are optimistic and plan more trials.
Cicuits of depression :
Sarah is the first person to receive the experimental treatment.
She’d had a string of failed treatments in recent years, including antidepressants and electroconvulsive therapy.
The surgery may sound daunting, but Sarah said the prospect of gaining “any kind of relief” was better than the darkness she had been experiencing.
“I had exhausted all possible treatment options. “My daily life had become so restricted. I felt tortured each day. I barely moved or did anything.”
The surgery involved drilling small holes in her skull to fit the wires that would monitor and stimulate her brain.
How It Works
Dr. Katherine Scangos, a psychiatrist at the university, explained that the breakthrough was made possible by locating the “depression circuits” in Sarah’s brain.
“We discovered one area, known as the ventral striatum, where stimulation consistently eliminated her feelings of depression.”
“We also discovered a brain activity area in the amygdala that could predict when her symptoms were at their worst.”
According to the researchers, much more research is needed to put the experimental therapy to the test and see if it can help more people suffering from severe depression, as well as other conditions.
Dr. Scangos, who has two other patients enrolled in the trial and hopes to recruit nine more, stated: “We need to look at how these circuits differ between patients and repeat this work several times.
“And we need to see if a person’s biomarker or brain circuit changes over time as the treatment progresses.
“We weren’t sure if we’d be able to treat her depression at all because it was so severe.
“As a result, we are very excited about this. It’s desperately needed in the field right now.”
According to Dr. Edward Chang, the neurosurgeon who installed the device: “To be clear, this is not a demonstration of the effectiveness of this method.