Sunday, June 1, 2008

Brain pacemakers show promise against depression in 1st tests

Some worst-case patients - whose illness isn't relieved by medication, psychotherapy, shock treatment - get lasting relief

It's a new frontier for psychiatric illness: brain pacemakers that promise to act as antidepressants by changing how patients' nerve circuitry fires.

Scientists already know the power of these devices to block the tremors of Parkinson's disease and related illnesses; more than 40,000 such patients worldwide have the implants.

But psychiatric illnesses are much more complex, and the new experiments with deep brain stimulation, or DBS, are in their infancy. Only a few dozen patients with severe depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder so far have been treated in closely monitored studies.

Still, the early results are promising. Dramatic video shows one patient visibly brightening as doctors turn on her brain pacemaker and she says in surprise: "I'm starting to smile." And new reports this month show that some worst-case patients - whose depression wasn't relieved by medication, psychotherapy or even controversial shock treatment - are finding lasting relief.


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