Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Pacemaker for the Brain

I was surfing about health and mental illnesses when i found an interesting article from It is about a new method for treating depression. It is still in its experimental phase though.

Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) using implants is an emerging research frontier in psychiatry and neuromedicine. DBS technique blocks tremors using implants in brain has already been tried on Parkinson’s patients. More than 40,000 Parkinson’s patients worldwide have these implants and have shown positive results. Now scientists are exploring options to manipulate brain circuits with these implants for other illnesses such as chronic depression and obsessive compulsive disorder as well. The idea is to explore whether these implants can act as antidepressant by changing how the basic brain circuitry fires in patients with severe untreatable symptoms.

The brain is a complex and exciting area of research. Mental illnesses such as severe depression and obsessive compulsion disorder have challenged psychiatrists for decades. Chances of cure by medicinal and surgical intervention are thin for many patients. So brain pace-makers, if they do give positive results, will give hope for many to return to normal life. Deep Brain Stimulation or DBS using implants for treating mental illnesses is still in an initial experimental state. Results are being monitored closely.

Human Brain is a sensitive complex area for invasive research. In Parkinson’s affected brain areas have been mapped and wire implants are inserted in particular thalamus area. But such areas are yet to be identified and marked in other mental illnesses. Scientists do have a fair idea and are exploring focus areas for depression patients. But such research, which is largely funded by implant manufacturers and with little government intervention, is totally like blind men exploring an elephant. Manipulating nerve circuits in brain can have immense unimaginable behavourial side effects. Each brain is uniquely wired which makes all of distinct individuals. Scientists must tread carefully. DBS cannot be called successful and viable unless psychiatric patients show marked improvement. Experiments till now have shown patients do respond to the treatment but they are far from cured. These experimental studies are being carried out by teams at the Cleveland Clinic, Brown University, and Belgium’s University of Leuven.

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