By implanting part of the brain with pacemaker electrodes, scientists have been able to rapidly and dramatically improve the condition of patients suffering from major depression.
Researchers from of the Bonn University Hospital have implanted pacemakers into the medial forebrain bundles of patients with major depression. They’ve discovered that this form of deep brain stimulation drastically and rapidly reduces the depression in six of seven patients. Similar methods have been employed previously, but with limited results.
Professor Volker Arnd Coenen, a neurosurgeon at the University Hosptial connected the implanted electrodes to a cerebral pacemaker and applied a weak current. This, in turn, stimulated the nerve cells in the brain. Over a period of several days, six of the seven volunteers who partook in the study found themselves improving immensely, with symptoms such as anxiety, despondence and joylessness improving considerably. ”Such sensational success both in terms of the strength of the effects, as well as the speed of the response has so far not been achieved with any other method," says Prof. Thomas E. Schläpfer from Bonn University Hosptial’s department of psychiatry and psychotherapy.
The brain: Your very own, biological troll.
The medial forebrain bundle, the area stimulated in the study, is a cluster of nerves associated with the brain’s reward system and “euphoria circuit”. It runs from the limbic system to the prefrontal cortex. One part of the bundle is a perfect place to apply the electrodes, because the nerve fibers all pass through a very narrow space.
Previous attempts at deep brain stimulation were focused on other parts of the brain, and though partially successful as well, held poorer results. Previous efforts have managed to help 50% of patients after weeks of treatment. The new method however, works on 85% of patients so far, and works in a matter of days. "Obviously, we have now come closer to a critical structure within the brain that is responsible for major depression," sayd Prof. Schläpfer. Equally promising news is that the patients were observed for a period of 18 months after treatment, and there has been no signs of remission into depression.