Brain ‘pacemaker’ could eradicate severe depression in SECONDS
PEOPLE with depression could be cured in seconds with a brain 'pacemaker', experts have discovered.
The device works by detecting patterns of brain activity that are linked to depression.
Depression is a common mental disorder that causes people to experience low mood, feelings of guilt and low self worth.
Globally, it is the predominant mental health problem, followed by anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Experts at the University of California in San Francisco (UCSF) used tiny pulses of electrical stimulation deep inside the brain in order to target patterns of depression.
The researchers said the procedure represents a “landmark success” in the effort to treat mental health issues with targeted electronics.
Around 2.7 million people in the UK are thought to be suffering with treatment-resistant depression – this is when traditional methods such as anti-depressants don't work.
The new treatment works by putting an implant under the skull.
Once in place – electrodes travel deep into the brain.
The experts said that the expensive and 'potentially risky' treatment would only be used on people with severe depression and for those where traditional treatments have not worked.
The first person to have the treatment said she now 'has a life worth living'.
The 36-year-old, known only as Sarah said she had been 'tortured by suicidal thoughts everyday'.
She added: "I was at the end of the line. Now those thoughts still come up, but it’s just . . . poof . . . the cycle stops."
Writing in Nature Medicine, Professor Andrew Krystal said the study points the way to a new paradigm that is desperately needed in psychiatry.
What is depression?
Depression is not just a feeling of unhappiness or being a bit fed up for a few days – which is common and totally normal.
Those who are suffering from depression can suffer from an immense feeling of sadness that can last for weeks and maybe even months.
Everyone is different and the condition can manifest itself in different ways but is often described as a total disconnect from all feelings of happiness.
The NHS warns against trivialising depression as not a genuine health problem on its website: "Some people think depression is trivial and not a genuine health condition. They're wrong – it is a real illness with real symptoms."
He added: “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."
Sarah explained that the only feeling she experienced from the device was that of 'alertness'.
The machine was adapted from a device that is used to treat epilepsy and costs around £26,000.
It's the first system to use 'deep brain stimulation' and previous studies into this technique have shown limited success in treating depression – but this, experts say is due to the fact that previous studies had been unable to targetcertain areas and would deliver constant electrical stimulation.
The researchers have now recruited two other patients to test the device on.
Assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at UCSF, Katherine Scangos, said this kind of personalised therapy had never been possible before.
She added: "This success in itself is an incredible advancement in our knowledge of the brain function that underlies mental illness.”
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