Brain implant can lift severe depression, study finds

pharmafile | October 5, 2021 | News story | Manufacturing and Production, Research and Development  

Researchers from the University of California have created an electrical implant that sits in the skull, wired to the brain, that can detect and treat severe depression.

In a procedure that lasted a full working day, the team of scientists implanted a matchbox-sized chronic deep brain sensing and stimulation device into the skull of the patient and implemented a biomarker-driven closed-loop therapy.

Dr Katherine Scangos, a psychiatrist at the University of California, said the innovation was made possible by locating the “depression circuits” in the patient’s brain.

She said: “We found one location, which is an area called the ventral striatum, where stimulation consistently eliminated her feelings of depression, and we also found a brain activity area in the amygdala that could predict when her symptoms were most severe.”

The patient was a 36-year-old woman with childhood onset severe and treatment-resistant major depressive disorder (MDD), that was unresponsive to multiple antidepressant combinations and electroconvulsive therapy, and who had participated in a personalised closed-loop neurostimulation trial.

The researchers first performed stimulus-response mapping of emotion circuitry, employing ten stereoelectroencephalography (SEEG) electrodes implanted bilaterally in various places across the brain. They then stimulated and recorded the neural activity of the patient, identifying neural biomarkers that were then used to spot when the patient was having a bout of depression and subsequently trigger the deep brain stimulation therapy.

Dr Scangos, who has enrolled two other patients in the trial and hopes to recruit nine more, said: “We need to look at how these circuits vary across patients and repeat this work multiple times and we need to see whether an individual’s biomarker or brain circuit changes over time as the treatment continues.

“We didn’t know if we were going to be able to treat her depression at all because it was so severe. So, in that sense we are really excited about this. It’s so needed in the field right now.”

The research team were keen to assert that it is too soon to say that the success of this first implantation will be able to help others.

Dr Edward Chang, the neurosurgeon who fitted the device, said: “To be clear, this is not a demonstration of efficacy of this approach.

“It’s really just the first demonstration of this working in someone and we have a lot of work ahead of us as a field to validate these results to see if this actually is something that will be enduring as a treatment option.”

Kat Jenkins

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