Cure for depression?

The procedure is called Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) and is proving to be effective on patients that don’t respond to conventional treatment.

The treatment has been approved by the FDA since 1997 to treat symptoms of movement issues like Parkinson’s disease, dystonia and tremors, but using it for treatment of mental disorders is still experimental. Only a few scientists have tested it on several dozens of patients suffering from treatment resistant depression and obsessive compulsive disorder.

A recent study published by the Archives of General Psychology expanded the testing to include seven patients with bipolar disorder, and it worked just as well for them as for those with depression. None of the patients experienced a manic episode while receiving treatment.

The process involves an expensive ($50,000) brain surgery where the surgeon inserts wires into the brain that allow Area 25 — the part of the brain associated with depressive disorders — to be stimulated regularly with an electronic pulse controlled by a pacemaker-like device implanted in the chest.

Study co-author Dr. Helen Mayberg, a professor in the departments of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and neurology, at Emory University School of Medicine noted that it “not only just helps patients who haven’t been able to recover from depression, but it seems to be associated with the absence of relapses. They’re not only getting better, they’re staying better.”

Her study saw 17 patients receive treatment initially over 24 weeks, after going four weeks either with or without stimulation. Most patients continued to receive treatment over two years. When researchers temporarily turned it off in three patients, their depression returned.

After the first 24 weeks, 18 per cent of participants went into remission, while after one year 36 per cent experienced remission, and that statistic rose to 58 per cent after two years. The number of patients getting better increased over time, proving that that the impact seems to accumulate with continued treatment.

All the patients included in the study had previously been through conventional treatments including psychiatric medications, psychotherapy, and electroconvulsive therapy, but nothing they tried provided relief.


Only patients with a Hamilton Depression Scale score of 20 or above — which indicates severe depression — were eligible for the study. A 50 per cent drop in Hamilton scores after DBS surgery was counted as a response to treatment. Those whose scores dropped below 8 were considered in remission, experiencing the normal ups and downs of healthy people.

The study goes a long way in proving the safety and effectiveness of such a treatment, but for now, research continues. Mayberg advises those interested in DBS to try and get into the ongoing study.

Sources: Daily Mail, CNN, USNews, MedlinePlus

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