Source: A woman with severe depression has been successfully treated with an experimental brain implant in a “stunning” advance that offers hope to those with intractable mental illness.
The device works by detecting patterns of brain activity linked to depression and automatically interrupting them using tiny pulses of electrical stimulation delivered deep inside the brain.
The 36-year-old patient, Sarah, said the therapy had returned her to “a life worth living”, allowing her to laugh spontaneously for the first time in five years.
Although the therapy has been tested in only one patient – and would only ever be suitable for those with severe illness – the success is seen as hugely significant. It is the first demonstration that the brain activity underlying the symptoms of mental illness can be reliably detected and reveals that these brain circuits can be nudged back into a healthy state, even in a patient who has been unwell for years.
A meticulous, personalised approach paved the way for the latest advance. In an initial phase lasting a week, a temporary brain implant recorded a wide range of activity while Sarah regularly logged her mood on a tablet. A machine learning algorithm was used to identify a telltale pattern of activity in the amygdala region accompanying Sarah’s lowest points.
Through trial and error the scientists identified a closely connected brain area, the ventral striatum, where a tiny dose of electricity appeared to have an immediate and profound impact.
“When I first received stimulation I felt the most intensely joyous sensation and my depression was a distant nightmare for a moment,” said Sarah. “I just laughed out loud. It’s the first time I had spontaneously laughed or smiled … in five years.”
In a second round of minimally invasive surgery, a permanent device was implanted, with a tiny battery unit embedded in her skull, to detect the “depression signature”activity in the amygdala and automatically deliver stimulation to the ventral striatum.
This happens about 300 times each day, equivalent to about 30 minutes of stimulation. The electrical pulse is not accompanied by any sensation, Sarah said, aside from a subtle feeling of alertness and positivity.
The device costs about $35,000 (£26,000) and is an adapted version of one normally used to treat epilepsy, called the NeuroPace RNS System. The UCSF team has already enrolled two more patients and hopes to recruit a further nine to assess whether the technique can be more widely applied.
Well, isn’t this exciting for anyone with a faulty amygdala?
Here’s the question I have:
How does evangelical America feel about Sarah’s decision to have a machine regulate her mood? And why didn’t God fix Sarah? It feels like an ‘L’ for Jesus when a team of doctors can fix what God clearly fucked up.
How brutal was this woman’s depression?
Choosing brain surgery over pills and cognitive therapy is last-resort shit. It takes some serious fucking courage to let a group of strangers crack your skull open to put a (permanent) machine in your brain.
This is the kind of thing Elon Musk has been after. He’s currently engaged in human trials of ‘Nueralink’, an implant that feeds information and monitors/records activity in the brain. Musk is a renegade though and he built a robot to implant a device that basically punches the device into the brain, eliminating the use of saws and screws, which is a nice touch.
Again, this is the kind of story that worries evangelical crazies. It means science can do what the good lord can’t. It’s only a matter of time before our prayers are directed to Elon’s Neuralink database where your prayers will be answered with a delivery from amazon or an a la carte brain zap to forget the pain from a nasty break up.
Who doesn’t want to download fantasy football stats in 2 seconds or learn how to make a beef stew without looking up a recipe? Erasing bad memories will be like moving old files to the trash on your desktop.
God can’t do that.