Brain implant ‘landmark’ US study alleviates severe depression in patients

U.S. researchers have successfully relieved a patient of severe, long-term depression with an electronic implant that acts like a neural pacemaker, resetting brain circuits associated with negative emotions.

The team from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) said the study was “a breakthrough breakthrough” in the scientific endeavor to treat mental illness through carefully observed neural electronics. The study was published in the journal Nature Medicine.

Andrew Crystal, a professor of psychiatry at UCSF, said: “We’ve developed an accurate medicine system that successfully detects and corrects our brain circuits and manages our patient’s treatment-resistant depression.”

In a press teleconference before the study was released, the 36-year-old patient, who just wanted to call Sarah, said the implant changed her life after five years of severe depression that would not respond to any combination of drugs or electroconvulsive therapy. “I used to feel tormented by suicidal thoughts every day,” he said. “I was at the end of the line.”

Almost immediately after being planted deep in his brain, the device provides relief, which has been going on for over a year now. When it detects nerve activity associated with irrational thinking, which has previously stimulated depressing emotions, its electrodes provide a short, corrective electrical pulse and “puff”. . . The cycle stops “, as Sarah put it.

Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) has recently become a regular treatment for epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease but has had limited success against depression, affecting 200 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. 300% of depressed patients do not respond well to existing treatments.

The problem with the application of neuro-electronics to depression was that scientists knew relatively little about the brain circuits associated with this condition. The UCSF team’s original discovery was a “biomarker” that initiates depressive symptoms, a specific pattern of nerve activity in the part of the brain known as the amygdala that is associated with threat responses.

The device is placed under the skull. When the electrode marked in blue starts to feel depressing, it sends small electric pulses under the electrode described in red to relieve the symptoms. Why Probest / UCSF

The DBS device used in the study was adapted from the one used to treat epilepsy. When it detects biomarkers in the amygdala, it sends tiny electrical pulses to another area, the ventral striatum, which is part of the brain’s reward and pleasure system. It immediately picks up the symptoms of unwanted mood.

Sameer Seth, a neurosurgeon at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, who was not involved in the UCSF study, is running another test of personalized implants to treat depression and is about to report positive results. He said the two projects indicate a research trend towards developing “more distinct methods for psychiatric treatment” based on stimulating specific brain circuits.

Although the outlook was promising, Sarah was the first patient in the first published experiment, warned Katherine Scangos, an assistant professor of psychology at UCSF. Scangos has enlisted two more people with severe depression to take part in the study and has a complete target for 12 patients.

“We need to see how these circuits change in patients and repeat this task more than once,” he said, and we need to see if a person’s biomarker or brain circuit changes over time as treatment continues. ”

Attaching an implant under the skull with electrodes deep in the brain is an expensive, invasive, and potentially risky procedure. Once the details of the underlying subject of the brain circuit are better understood, “we hope to find non-invasive biomarkers that can be used with non-invasive treatments,” Scangos said.

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