Deep brain stimulation can treat depression

Image Credit: Mayo Clinic
Image Credit: Mayo Clinic

There is a need to find alternative treatment for roughly 4 million people in the US, suffering from depression that doesn’t respond to medication.  Minimally invasive therapies are providing novel solutions and continue to improve quality of patient life. One such therapy is deep brain stimulation (DBS), which shows promise in helping patients suffering from depression.   

What is the leading theory behind cause of depression? 
Dr. Emad N. Eskandar, Harvard medical school, Boston states that the research suggests that a specific region of brain called as the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, is major contributor to the development depression.

 What is deep brain stimulation (DBS)? 

Electrodes are placed into the brain that delivers electrical stimulation or tiny shocks to specific areas of the brain.  This therapy is generally knows as deep brain stimulation. 


What are finding from different studies? 

A limited study involving population of 12 patients was reported recently at the American Association of Neurological surgeons annual meeting in San Diego, California.  These patients have depression for 27 years and nine or ten different drugs had been tried on them. 


The patients were randomly assigned either to get active or sham (placebo) stimulation for 8 weeks.  After eight weeks all of the patients were subjected to active stimulation. It was found that after 8 weeks 22% of the patients under active stimulation exhibited improvement as compared to just 3% for the patients under sham stimulation. All of the patients exhibited continued improvement 6 and 12 months later.



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Image Credit: Plain Dealer

Donald Malone, MD, a researcher at the Cleveland Clinic, is involved with a team which is targeting to stimulate different area of brain.  They have reported that 9 out of 17 patients that were subjected to DBS exhibited at least a 50% improvement in their depression symptoms after three months. Also, it was found that 8 of 16 were still benefiting after a year.

Mayberg and her colleagues stimulated areas adjacent to a area in brain called Brodmann area 25.  Abnormal activity in this area of brain has been responsible for treatment-resistant depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Researchers found that 4 out of 6 patients treated by DBS exhibited relief.


What is the success rate of treatment by DBS? 

Mayberg commented at a forum on deep brain stimulation held at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington that “Not all patients get better, but when patients respond, it’s quite significant”.  Furthermore the patients felt relief from feelings of despair and hopelessness rather than happiness.


Although, data on deep brain stimulation is limited, but it is encouraging to see the development in field of brain stimulation as it provides a hope to the patients suffering from depression.  As the technology is developed further and larger clinical trials are conducted, I hope DBS comes handy in alleviating pain of people, which makes a person emotionally weaker day-by-day.



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