The depression can be a really disabling and difficult to treat disorder (nearly one – third of patients do not respond to treatment); Furthermore, it is a very common condition that affects many millions of people in the world. Thus, it is not surprising that a large number of scientists dedicate their work to finding better strategies to deal with it.
Along these lines, a group of researchers from the University of California has successfully carried out a first trial of the treatment of a brain implant in a patient with resistant depression.
A custom implant
The patient in question is a 36-year-old woman who had been suffering from depression since she was a child , without any line of treatment achieving significant results in her. For this reason, he chose to present himself as a case study to this essay.
The researchers built on previous experiences with brain implants that had been successful in treating Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy . These same types of experiments have previously been carried out for depression, using deep stimulation in specific regions of the brain, but the results had not been entirely satisfactory.
The difference is that, in this case, instead of deciding the areas of the brain to stimulate based on generic knowledge about depression, the researchers examined the particular characteristics of the patient’s depression on an individual basis.
Analyzing their brain activity, they found a certain pattern of brain waves that they identified as a biomarker of depression, and they designed the implant so that it would only stimulate when this pattern was expressed.
Specifically, the implant has two electrodes, one of which was inserted in the area in which this pattern was detected and the other in which it controls the symptoms of depression. In this way, the machine was programmed so that, when the first detected the pattern, the second produced a very slight electric shock for 6 seconds.
Thus, compared to previous attempts that stimulated generic areas at regular intervals of time, this new implant can act only when the specific signs of each patient appear, in the areas in which they occur.
In the first months, the patient reported an abrupt improvement, which has not been reversed since then and which has resulted in a markedly higher quality of life. In other words, the results are very promising and could represent a turning point in the use of brain implants to treat psychiatric disorders.
However, the most likely, scientists acknowledge, is that this implant is not universal, but will require a comprehensive study of each case to identify each individual variation in the affected areas and the pattern of brain waves.
In addition, these markers may change over time , so it will also be necessary to monitor this and other future patients in whom this technique is tried.
But in any case, it is true that, one day, the use of brain implants to treat depression and other psychiatric conditions when resistant to treatment could become a realistic option to end the suffering.