Scientists Use Implanted Electrodes to Cure Severe Depression

Scientists Use Implanted Electrodes to Cure Severe Depression

The science of mental health is still in its infancy, given that lobotomy was seen as a viable treatment for many psychological diseases just a few decades ago. We don’t even know why some psychiatric medications work. As our understanding of the brain’s internal processes, it may become possible to treat disorders not with medication but with direct stimulation of the brain. One patient, the subject of a newly published study on the treatment of depression, can attest to that. The patient, known as Sarah, says her depression was alleviated thanks to direct brain stimulation via implanted electrodes.

Direct Brain Stimulation (DBS) has found use in the treatment of Parkinson’s and certain seizure disorders. The electrical impulses in DBS can alter erratic patterns of brain activity, causing changes in mood or behavior. Figuring out exactly where to alter the brain’s activity is a challenge, though.

Sarah has reportedly suffered severe depression since childhood, and none of the treatments she sought had a substantial impact. The method used by the University of California team started by assessing the patient’s brain activity in search of activity patterns that could be associated with the depressive state. Then, the team tuned the electrical impulses that would be fed into the patient’s brain.

Scientists Use Implanted Electrodes to Cure Severe Depression

The researchers found that Sarah’s brain showed activity spikes in the ventral striatum, which figures in decision making. There were also dysfunctional patterns in the amygdala, which regulates emotional responses like fear and anxiety. According to Sarah, the difference was immediately noticeable when the initial test device was activated. While her depression did begin worsening again while waiting for the DBS implant to be ready, her recovery has been stark since the surgery. She says she finally feels able to “rebuild a life worth living.”

While this news could give hope to many suffering from difficult-to-treat depression, the team is careful to stress this is not a silver bullet. It’s a one-off success that could point the way to new treatments. For that to be viable, the process will have to be simplified. The analysis and planning for Sarah’s treatment was labor-intensive — the cost could easily surpass $30,000. More research will be necessary to fully understand the implications and function of DBS to treat severe depression. Invasive brain surgery will probably never be the preferred treatment for depression, though. Like ECT, treatments this drastic are likely to be last resorts or nearly last resorts. Members of the team are already investigating ways to stimulate the brain in a non-invasive way.

Continue reading

Perseverance Takes Its First Drive on Mars
Perseverance Takes Its First Drive on Mars

Perseverance finally took its first drive on Mars late last week, covering a total of 21.3 feet (6.5 meters).

Mars Orbiter Spots New Perseverance Lander on Surface
Mars Orbiter Spots New Perseverance Lander on Surface

The NASA Perseverance rover touched down on Mars last month, kicking off what we all hope will be many years studying the red planet. Perseverance isn't the only robot in that part of the solar system. The ESA's Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) is one of several missions looking down at the surface, and it has spotted the Perseverance rover on the floor of Jezero Crater.

Interview: NASA’s Adam Steltzner Talks Perseverance and Why We Shouldn’t Colonize Mars
Interview: NASA’s Adam Steltzner Talks Perseverance and Why We Shouldn’t Colonize Mars

NASA's Perseverance rover is set to touch down on Mars in the coming days, and we had the opportunity to talk to one of the people who had a hand in bringing this mission to fruition.

Time to Update: Google Patches 2 Severe Zero-Day Chrome Vulnerabilities
Time to Update: Google Patches 2 Severe Zero-Day Chrome Vulnerabilities

Unlike the last few zero-days, Google didn't find these security holes itself. Instead, it was tipped by anonymous third-parties, and the problems are severe enough that it hasn't released full details. Suffice it to say, you should stop putting off that update.