Electrodes Implanted In The Brain Could Cure Depression
April 16, 2012

Electrodes Implanted In The Brain Could Cure Depression

A new and radical breakthrough procedure may help doctors treat depression in their patients with the use of electrodes.

Implanting electrodes in the brains of patients who suffer depression has been shown to be very effective, but is only recommended for patients who found no help with prescription medications.

Now, after years of positive results from early field trials, Helen Mayberg, the neurologist pioneering this new treatment, is seeking FDA approval.

The treatment is known as “Deep Brain Stimulation,” (DBS) and has been used for over a decade to treat some movement disorders, such as Parkinson´s disease. Deep brain stimulation is quite invasive, but Dr. Mayberg believes inserting the electrodes in the brain of the depressed patients could relieve their suffering.

The treatment involves drilling two very small holes into the skull, then inserting small, battery-powered electrodes into the brain. Doctors can then send a very small electrical current to the brain, about a thousandth of the power used to light a flashlight bulb.

Dr. Mayberg says the procedure is targeting a small part of the brain, no larger than a pea, called Area 25. This area is crucial in affecting people´s moods.

Each electrode has 4 contacts which can be independently controlled with various levels of electricity. To determine the best place to plant the electrodes, the doctor and patient have to go through a test of trial and error. The doctor will move the electrode around the small area and ask the patient to describe what area feels best on a scale from 1 to 10.

Patients who volunteered to go through with the procedure instantly became more uplifted. One patient even began to spontaneously talk about blooming flowers and the symbol of rebirth and renewal in spring.

Speaking to Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Andy Segal of CNN, Dr. Mayberg said the first tests in Toronto in 2003 were emotionally overwhelming for her, and though she tried to remain an impartial scientist, she couldn´t always hold back the tears.

“I did a lot of crying,” she said.

One of Dr. Mayberg´s greatest success stories from the surgery is Edi Guyton, a college professor who has struggled with depression ever since she was a teenager. While in college, Guyton found the depression to be too much to handle, and tried to kill herself by slitting her wrists. She tried again years later as the chair of the early childhood education department at Georgia State University.

After 22 years at GSU, Guyton retired early and tried to beat her depression. When she heard about Dr. Mayberg´s work with DBS, she signed up to be a volunteer for the procedure.

To determine if they genuinely felt better or just believed in the procedure as a placebo effect, some of the patients were told their battery packs would be turned off, while some patients had their packs remain on.

Guyton had her packed turned off, and her depression returned quickly. Now, according to a psychological test called the “Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression,” Guyton´s depression is in remission thanks to the new surgery.

Dr. Mayberg now hopes to better understand how and why the DBS procedure works as well as it does.

“To be brutally honest, we have no idea how this works,” Mayberg told CNN.