Implant “zaps brain when it detects neural activity associated with irrational thoughts.” (U.S. Study)

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by BN Frank, Activist Post:

Mental health issues can be difficult to treat.  But would you be willing to have a device implanted in your brain to alleviate it?

At least 2 companies have already been creating brain chips for non-medical use (see 12).  Recently, a study determined that an implant can also be used to reduce depression.

From Ars Technica:

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Brain Implant relieves patient’s severe depression in “landmark” US study

Device zaps brain when it detects neural activity associated with irrational thoughts.

US researchers have successfully relieved a patient’s severe, long-term depression with an electronic implant that acts like a neural pacemaker, resetting the brain circuits associated with negative feelings.

The team at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) said the study was “a landmark success” in the scientific effort to treat psychiatric disorders through carefully targeted neural electronics. The study is published in the Nature Medicine journal.

“We’ve developed a precision medicine approach that has successfully managed our patient’s treatment-resistant depression by identifying and modulating the circuit in her brain that’s uniquely associated with her symptoms,” said Andrew Krystal, UCSF professor of psychiatry.

At a press teleconference ahead of the study’s publication, the 36-year-old patient, who asked just to be called Sarah, said the implant had transformed her life after five years of intense depression that would not respond to any drug combination or electroconvulsive therapy. “I felt tortured by suicidal thoughts every day,” she said. “I was at the end of the line.”

Almost immediately after being inserted deep into her brain, the device provided relief, which has so far lasted for a year. When it detects neural activity associated with irrational thoughts, which previously triggered depressive obsessions, its electrodes deliver a short, corrective electric pulse and “poof… the cycle stops,” as Sarah put it.

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) has recently become a routine treatment for epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease but has had limited success against depression, which affects 280 million people globally, according to the World Health Organization. As many as 30 percent of depressed patients do not respond well to existing treatments.

The problem with applying neuro-electronics to depression had been that scientists knew relatively little about the brain circuits associated with the condition. The UCSF team’s key discovery was a “biomarker” indicating the onset of depressive symptoms, a specific pattern of neural activity in the part of the brain called the amygdala that deals with responses to threats.

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

Sameer Sheth, a neurosurgeon at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston who was not involved in the UCSF research, is carrying out another trial of personalized implants to treat depression and is about to publish positive results. He said the two projects indicated a trend in research toward developing “a more individualized approach to psychiatric treatments,” based on stimulating specific brain circuits.

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