The success story is a step for personal medicine. However, the result must be interpreted with important reservations, the professor believes.
A paralyzing feeling where all the energy leaves the body. Life just seems heavy and you lack profit and feel depressed.
It is often a symptom for 3 to 5 percent of the population: Those who suffer from depression.
In recent years, brain researchers have experimented a lot with electricity as a treatment, and now I have a research group published a new study in the journal Naturmedicin which takes the field of research a step further.
Researchers have implanted ten electrodes in the brain of a 36-year-old woman with major depression. When the electrode detects that the brain is entering a depression, it automatically and gently shocks.
– It is very interesting, says Martin Balslev Jørgensen, chief physician at the Psychiatric Center Copenhagen and clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Copenhagen.
The 36-year-old woman experienced a marked decrease in depressive symptoms and weeks after treatment. But the trial must be repeated on several patients to be sure that others experience the beneficial effect, has founded.
An experiment with tailor-made treatment
Today, moderate or extensive depression treatment is being done with medications that affect the brain’s neurotransmitters.
However, the drugs have a dubious reputation. Almost half receive no help, and the same goes for psychotherapy, so it is necessary for other treatment.
It is also welcome that the new study shows the way to a form of treatment that is more adapted to the individual, says researcher Martin Balslev Jørgensen.
– What makes the study unique is that the researchers are experimenting with tailor-made treatment. They have found out where in the brain precisely this patient’s depressive symptoms are located and how they can alleviate symptoms, he says.
Advanced upgrade can yield results
Other research groups have previously tried to operate on electrodes in the brains of depressed patients. In the beginning with great success, but without the great results when the patients were examined more thoroughly.
The good effect in the new study is probably due to the fact that researchers have upgraded the method at a crucial point.
– Instead of stimulating the brain all the time, the researchers checked when the patient had depressive symptoms first, says Martin Balslev Jørgensen.
What is deep brain stimulation?
Deep brain stimulation is a neurosurgical procedure in which electrodes and electrical stimuli are implanted in the brain to treat various neurological diseases.
The procedure is used for Parkinson’s, essential tremor (involuntary tremor), dystonia (involuntary muscle contractions) and depression.
Researchers have asked the 36-year-old woman to check how depressed she felt while measuring electrical impulses in the brain via the electrodes in the skull.
They discovered that the symptoms matched activity patterns in the amygdala – the almond-shaped core of the brain’s temporal lobe that, among other things, handles fear and defense reactions.
Thus, they could stimulate just that area. The electrodes could also detect when there was depressive activity.
Unusual patterns of depression
Although the electrodes helped the 36-year-old woman, the new study is only the first step on an extremely long road.
It is a method that uses the user’s electronic devices tailored to the individual.
– We can not draw any conclusions from a trial with one patient. The researchers prove that it is possible, but not whether it is a good idea, says Poul Videbech, who is a professor and chief physician at the Center for Neuropsychiatric Depression Research at the Psychiatric Center Glostrup in Denmark.
Electrodes work better inside the brain
Why exactly can scientists not put themselves with putting the electrodes on the outside of the skull, you might?
But it is more effective to stimulate rights in the areas of the brain where the disorder sits.
Electrical signals outside the skull must force the skin and skull, and this weakens the effect, says Martin Balslev Jørgensen.
A possible problem with the new study is that the 36-year-old woman varies between good and bad phases.
Usually, patients with major depression have the most difficult time all the time. Therefore, there is no guarantee that the treatment will work for patients with classic depression patterns, Videbech continues.
In general, many patients experience and extensive placebo effect with deep brain stimulation. They feel fresher after undergoing such a massive operation, he says.
To check this, researchers must trick some of the patients into believing that they have electrodes in the brain, Videbech believes.
May be high risk
It can be difficult to try to continue research, points out Martin Balslev Jørgensen.
– It’s a big operation. That is why it is not done on patients with common symptoms, he says.
Depression must be very severe. Electronic can cause infections and in some cases Parkinson’s patients have become worse. There is a certain risk of suicide, says Jørgensen.
A few are also affected by cerebral haemorrhage, adds Poul Videbech.
– Deep brain stimulation is not very dangerous. Over a hundred thousand have been operated on for Parkinson’s, but even unlikely side effects are a disaster for those affected, says Videbech.
Deep brain stimulation has potential
Deep brain stimulation is growing as a form of treatment, and many patients with epilepsy, Parkinson’s and dystonia experience improvement.
This gives reason to believe that depressed people can also benefit from treatment. Especially if researchers can provide stimulation without the skull having to open, says Martin Balslev Jørgensen.
“Depression is a terrible disorder, and I hope researchers can find a less invasive way to do it,” he said.
© Videnskab.dk. Translated by Lars Nygaard for forskning.no. Read the original case on videnskab.dk here.
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