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Woman’s Severe Depression Treated With Brain ‘Pacemaker’

Graham Turner

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Depression pacemaker
A new, customised deep brain stimulation (DBS) device has proven far more effective than previous versions.

A team of scientists have successfully treated a patient with severe depression with a surgically implanted device.

The scientists, from the University of California San Francisco’s (UCSF) Weill Institute for Neuroscience, have suggested in a new study that their customised DBS is able to tap into the specific brain circuit involved in depressive brain patterns and reset them.

The case of ‘Sarah’ – who’s long-term severe depression is said to have been cured by the device – has served as a proof-of-concept as to the effectiveness of the new DBS.

Previous studys have shown that traditional DBS devices are limited in their effectiveness, mostly because they can only deliver constant electrical stimulation to one pre-designated area of the brain.

Identification of a ‘neural biomarker’ in the new study that indicates the onset of depression symptoms is the real breakthrough.

This enables the DBS device to stimulate different areas of the brain circuit, creating reactive neural therapy that is unique to both the patient’s brain and the neural circuit causing their illness.


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A statement from UCSF said: “UCSF Health physicians have successfully treated a patient with severe depression by tapping into the specific brain circuit involved in depressive brain patterns and resetting them using the equivalent of a pacemaker for the brain.

“The study, which appears in the October 4, 2021, issue of Nature Medicine, represents a landmark success in the years-long effort to apply advances in neuroscience to the treatment of psychiatric disorders.”

Despite the promising nature of the study’s results, scientists have said further research will be needed to determine if presented findings could be expanded upon and rolled out to the general population.


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Graham Turner

Sub Editor

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