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Biotech Science

Happiness Is A Warm Electrode 199

Posted by Zonk
from the everything-looks-so-vivid dept.
sufijazz writes "A story by Gregory Mone on the Popular Science website talks about trials to use deep brain stimulation to cure chronic depression. It's a deeper exploration of the 'brain pacemaker' discussed here on the site before, and a practical application of research discussed even earlier. Why the pulses affect mood is still unclear, but scientists believe that they may facilitate chemical communication between brain cells, possibly by forcing ions through nerve fibers called axons. In turn, this may trigger the release of mood-regulating chemicals like serotonin and norepinephrine. Similar trials are being conducted in other places. Exact numbers are hard to ascertain, but it's estimated that fewer than 50 patients in North America are walking around with wires in their brain."
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Happiness Is A Warm Electrode

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  • Eye-Friendly (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 23, 2007 @06:24AM (#20718131)
    Here [popsci.com] without the ads and annoying background.
  • by sirwired (27582) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @06:55AM (#20718269)
    While I am not depressed, I am very close to some who are, and they universally describe the feeling of getting on the proper drug regimen as "having a curtain lifted from my eyes", or "feeling a great weight off of my shoulders". Not high, not weird, just no longer crushingly depressed most of the time. On a properly tuned, working, medication regimen, anti-depressants enable the patient to again experience a "normal" range of emotion. Working, properly tuned, anti-depressants don't make you feel happy; instead they enable you to be happy under circumstances that most folks would be happy in, and you feel normal on normal days. You still feel like crap on crappy days.

    That said, everyone does react differently, and some can have the side-effect of sending you into a manic state (which can include the symptoms you described). Usually a dosage or timing adjustment can fix this.

    Drug tuning is still more art than science. A new drug to treat depression is considered a great success if 50% of the users experience a 50% improvement. Many successful regimens involve combinations of drugs, and it can take a year or more to find the right combination. (It doesn't help that many common drugs take over a month to have any effect.)

    SirWired
  • by Antique Geekmeister (740220) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @07:00AM (#20718285)
    Take a look at the cochlear implant wearers in the US. The auditory nerve is considered part of the brain in the paper I read a few years ago. There are 10,000 children in the US alone wearing them, according to Wikipedia. Then there are the implants for epilepsy, Parkinson's, and attempts to provide them for balance disorders.

    It's interesting work: they're apparently much more effective for transmitting a signal than picking up signals, so the idea of using them for artificial limbs or thought-control of aircraft has never really worked well.
  • by mattpalmer1086 (707360) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @07:41AM (#20718439)
    depression != unhappy

    Unhappy is what normal people feel when something exists to make them unhappy.
    Depression is what depressed people feel all, or most of, the time, for no apparent reason.

    Anti depressants allow a depressed person to feel normal - i.e. they can feel unhappy again, as well as happy and everything in between. It reconnects their emotional response to everything, rather than being permanently, well, literally depressed.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 23, 2007 @08:19AM (#20718569)
    Isn't this basically an electrical frontal lobotomy.

    Great question! If you mean "electrical frontal lobotomy" as in "a way to use electricity to separate the frontal lobes of the brain from the rest of the brain", then no I don't think it is. Then again, I'm no doctor, but I did read the article!

    On the other hand, if you mean "electrical procedure that is supposed to cure mental illness and that a lot of people really want to believe in to the degree that they may be willing to overlook gruesome consequences for several decades", then maybe. Who knows? Once upon a time, people thought sliced brains were the best thing since sliced bread.

    For a great story on the topic, check out http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5014080 [npr.org]

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