October 05, 2021

Brain Implant Offers New Future to Depression Treatment

Depression might become more manageable in the future, thanks to an experimental approach devised by a neuroscience team at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

A 36-year-old woman – identified as Sarah, who has struggled with severe and treatment-resistant depression since she could remember – tried a new solution that the UCSF scientists offered in the form of an experimental electronic implant.

The case study aimed to investigate deep brain stimulation methods, with the goal of reducing or alleviating depressive symptoms. They created a custom-designed “brain pacemaker” that resets the brain’s circuits by sending miniscule pulses of electrical currents to the regions associated with negative feelings.

The brain stimulation treatment is specifically tailored for each individual: the researchers traced the regions of Sarah’s brain to pinpoint when her depression would flare up. This pattern of brainwaves allowed the implant to activate at this biomarker, triggering relief from the currents.

Sarah, who laughed spontaneously for the first time in five years, said the therapy gave her “a life worth living.”

The tiny device might sound invasive, but it has proven to be successful with other neurological issues such as Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

Katherine Scangos, first author on the study, said: “This success in itself is an incredible advancement in our knowledge of the brain function that underlies mental illness.”

She added: “This study points the way to a new paradigm that is desperately needed in psychiatry.”

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