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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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  • I wonder if these people have to be careful about walking around in socks on shag carpet on cool winter days. pzzzt!
    • Who cares? Just tell me when they locate the pleasure centers of the brain so I can electrocute mine. :D
  • by User 956 (568564) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @07:25AM (#20718137) Homepage
    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.

    Isn't that the same way World of Warcraft works?
  • heh. (Score:5, Funny)

    by apodyopsis (1048476) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @07:30AM (#20718169)
    the rise of the wirehead!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wirehead [wikipedia.org]
    • by CRCulver (715279)
      I'm pretty sure Niven's vision of the wirehead has been debunked.
      • by rucs_hack (784150)
        Oh I don't know, it's not an unrealistic idea, just unlikely.
        Of course Niven had a particular aim in mind, exploring the boredom inherent in living beyond a normal lifetime. When Louis Wu was using it, it was because his life had become too boring to cope with.

        This use was made clear when the Hindmost tried to give it back to him once life had livened up again, and he wouldn't take it.

    • Debunked? There are numerous drug that cause no chemical or physiological addiction, but are psychologically addictive merely because they are pleasant. This will cause PURE pleasure with no drug like side effect. It will CERTAINLY be psychologically addictive and is EXACTLY what Niven had in mind when he described the Tasp.
  • by Das Modell (969371) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @07:31AM (#20718171)
    When I was on anti-depressants I acted in a way that, in retrospect, wasn't natural for me. I did some very weird things and occasionally embarrased myself, which is something that I don't like to do. What the fuck was I thinking back then? And was it really caused by anti-depressants, or have I simply changed? I don't know, but I'm now very wary of any artificial means of making yourself happy or less depressed. Besides, this technology doesn't address the root cause of why someone is depressed. I suppose it's useful to someone who's really badly depressed, but personally I wouldn't want to try it.
    • by gbutler69 (910166) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @07:34AM (#20718185) Homepage
      If the root cause is that your Axons are not releasing enough neurotransmitters, then this technique is addressing the root cause.
      • by replicant108 (690832) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @12:00PM (#20719635) Journal
        "If the root cause is that your Axons are not releasing enough neurotransmitters, then this technique is addressing the root cause."

        The problem is that modern medicine assumes that this is the root cause.

        • by Afecks (899057)
          That's because having emotions is for sick people.
        • by ConceptJunkie (24823) * on Sunday September 23, 2007 @04:23PM (#20721689) Homepage Journal
          Exactly. Modern psychological medicine isn't much further along than smacking your TV set to improve the reception (a metaphor that is becoming more and more archaic). They sometimes know what works. When it works, they sometimes know why. But I imagine they don't often know what caused it in the first place.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by sjames (1099)

            When it works, they sometimes know why.

            It seems that they very rarely if ever know why. It seems that practically ALL psychiatric drugs except for tranquilizers can act "paradoxically", that is, the opposite of their intended action. Furthermore, over time their effects on a given patient may flip-flop. That is, drug A used to make the condition worse, but is now helpful. B was effective for several years but now makes them worse. Meanwhile, as far as they know, A and B are in the same class, have simil

      • If the root cause is that your Axons are not releasing enough neurotransmitters, then this technique is addressing the root cause.

        The problem is, you're working on the assumption that the only effect of your Axons not releasing enough neurotransmitters is the human coined concept of depression and that it somehow has a one-to-one mapping to how the brain works.

        SSRIs make the wonderful promise of "Increase seratonin levels in the brain, see depression and anxiety fade away!"

        However, again using human coined terms for complex and non directly mapping neural concepts: Seratonin also aids inhibitions. Living with low seratonin means that

      • by nanoakron (234907)
        Brawndo's got what plants crave!
    • by sirwired (27582) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @07:55AM (#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
      • 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.

        Circumstances must be filtered by opinions before they affect a person's happiness. The most effective and least risky way to control one's emotional state is to modify one's opinions.

        Directly tampering with brain chemistry is expensive, risks your health, and creates a dangerous dependency on the supplier.
        • You are confusing clinical depression with pessimism. Telling somebody who is suffering from clinical depression to "modify their opinions" or "control their emotional state" is mostly useless. Somebody suffering from clinical depression is simply unable to feel happy. It doesn't matter at all what their circumstances are, or how a normally functioning person would feel about them. Yes, psychotherapy is at least partially effective for some forms of depression, but it is totally ineffective for others.
          • Telling somebody who is suffering from clinical depression to "modify their opinions" or "control their emotional state" is mostly useless.

            Of course. I am assuming that the person suffering from depression is unable to do this, and must be taught how.

            Somebody suffering from clinical depression is simply unable to feel happy.

            I think you are confusing something which can be cured by learning with a physical disability.

            Telling a depressed person that they should just be happier is about as effective as telling
    • by Sunburnt (890890) * on Sunday September 23, 2007 @07:57AM (#20718275)

      this technology doesn't address the root cause of why someone is depressed.

      It may, if the root cause of the depression is genetic.

      I generally agree with your sentiment, though. A great deal of depression is comorbid with personality disorder, or can be strongly correlated to environmental factors.

      In the former instance, there is probably little to be done in the clinical sense. Changing this person's emotional reactivity is likely to just bring different aspects of their disordered personality to light, and the chaos and alienation this can induce in the patient and their social group is probably no healthier than the depression. There's much more to this, but a discussion of therapy for personality disorders would be long and outside the scope of this discussion.

      It is the second instance, I believe, where you hit the nail on the head. If a patient gets depressed by their own self-defeating thoughts and patterns of abuse in their life, then it is the role of the therapist to facilitate change in those thoughts and behaviors within the context of everyday life, not to recommend tinkering directly with the patient's neurons.

      It is, of course, quite possible that some folks genes provide them with an abnormal system of emotional regulation, and that "rewiring" this system is the best way to enable them to participate in the full range of human experience. Given what I know of ethics review boards, it is likely that the few dozen folks who've undergone this procedure had not responded positively to the normal range of treatment, and that they have not been diagnosed as PD'd. I'll bet that getting cerebral electrodes implanted for depression probably requires at least as much review and investigation as bilateral cingulotomy, [wikipedia.org] for example.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by suv4x4 (956391)
      When I was on anti-depressants I acted in a way that, in retrospect, wasn't natural for me. I did some very weird things and occasionally embarrased myself, which is something that I don't like to do. What the fuck was I thinking back then? And was it really caused by anti-depressants, or have I simply changed? I don't know, but I'm now very wary of any artificial means of making yourself happy or less depressed.

      Few weeks ago when we talked about Singularity AI (AI that produces smarter AI and so on), I mad
      • Unlike mass, heat energy, and electromagnetic radiation, joy and pain do not exist outside the brain. Electrically induced joy is every bit as real as monetarily induced joy.
        • by CRCulver (715279)
          Only if you reject dualism and think that a human being is purely material. However, a number of philosophers are now turning back towards dualism (Swinburne has an excellent defence in one of his popular works published by Oxford University Press) and make the case that at least some emotion can be attributed to the "soul".
          • What can a soul do that a brain cannot? Claiming that the nervous system contains a supernatural element doesn't make joy and suffering objective. How would one objectively demonstrate that an experience is pleasant or unpleasant?
          • by Sunburnt (890890) *

            Only if you reject dualism and think that a human being is purely material.

            You don't have to embrace dualism to disagree with the GP's claim. You just have to reject the notion of epiphenomenalism. [stanford.edu]

            You and I are probably interested in the same problems, judging by your Swinburne reference, but I don't think that one's philosophical predilections toward monism or dualism say anything definitive about their beliefs about epiphenomenalism, nor does denying it require positing a soul (see Searle's Rediscovery

            • Are you claiming that my post makes me an epiphenomenalist?
              • by Sunburnt (890890) *

                Are you claiming that my post makes me an epiphenomenalist?

                No. I'm claiming that this statement is only supported by epiphenomenalist reasoning:

                Electrically induced joy is every bit as real as monetarily induced joy.

                I would suggest that this equivocates the reaction involved in two entirely different circumstances for a reason that only makes sense from the epiphenomenalist standpoint. If you reject epiphenomenalism and at the same time stand by the above quote, I would suggest that this is a contradict

                • If you reject epiphenomenalism and at the same time stand by the above quote, I would suggest that this is a contradiction deserving your attention.

                  I don't see the contradiction. My point was that no event is joyous or depressing without an observer that is capable of experiencing the subjective effects of said event. This idea is suggested in an oft quoted line from Shakespeare's Hamlet, "...for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so..."

                  Some people want to externalize pain, pleasure, and aesthetic preferences. For an example of this, read any slashdot debate about the merits of various musical genres.

              • by xenocide2 (231786)
                Good for you; take a stand against that kind of name-calling!
          • by grumling (94709)
            What part of the brain contains this "soul" you speak of? Are there humans alive that don't have a soul? Can I buy yours? Can I sell you mine? Will an angry God take it and throw it in a lake o' fire if I'm not worthy? Am I pissed off because my "soul" is dark and out of alignment? Can I get it realigned?
        • by suv4x4 (956391)
          Unlike mass, heat energy, and electromagnetic radiation, joy and pain do not exist outside the brain. Electrically induced joy is every bit as real as monetarily induced joy.

          If you believe that you must consider it amazing to take drugs that make you happy.

          The fact we exist as complex beings today, is that we evolved to understand out environment and synchronize our being to our surroundings. This means, unless there's some catastrophe that selects simpler, sturdier organisms, natural selection generally "p
          • You equating billions of years of evolution to reach this level, to a rod in your brain that makes you happy, is kinda sad.
            I think electrical stimulation of the brain is fascinating. You may find it sad. This just demonstrates how emotional states are subjective.
            • by suv4x4 (956391)
              This just demonstrates how emotional states are subjective.

              But we knew this already didn't we.
        • Saying that pleasure and pain are all in the brain is flat-out neural nonsense. Pain and pleasure are hardwired into many sensory nerves, and the responses to it play out in all sorts of biochemistry and neurological responses with little to no brain involvement.

          If you don't believe this, I suggest you examine the basic pain responses of your feet and hands and the testing of RSI in the hands of us geeks.
          • I was referring to emotional pain when I wrote that, but, yeah, I should have written nervous system instead of brain.
      • "In the end though, AI or actual intelligence is a very complex system. If the system says you're sad, you'd rather look into why you're sad and try changing things in your environment or actions."

        Depression results from screwip up with someones emotional centers, this is not the ONLY pathways to depression I'm sure but... I've got quote a few things I've figured out on my own

        A list of shit I've figured out:

        1) One doesn't get enough sex or human contact
        2) Poor social relationships
        3) Overwork / Stress
        4) Reli
      • and I agree the drugs thing *is* very unnatural allowing you're brain chemistry to achieve states that are terribly disconnected from anything you'd be able to actually achieve by any natural means. But before getting too high (no pun) on our horses I think it's important to remember that while this is a pretty incredibly young science and the chances are there will be a lot of missteps as we explore it the lives that it improves really are important. Even if it's done a bit imperfectly.

    • by Tony Hoyle (11698)
      Antidepressants are a bit of a blunt instrument. They tried them on my wife once.. not only did they stop her feeling stressed, they stopped her feeling *any* emotion. It was like being in a zombie movie...

      She gave them up after a week and never went back to that doctor again.

      Personally I'd be *very* wary of any doctor who prescribed drugs to treat depression. We don't know what causes it and we certainly don't know how to 'cure' it.
    • by Gadzinka (256729)
      The state of mind you describe has mania written all over it, for me. It is very unlikely for antidepressants to cause mania in a healthy brain. It is possible, but it's very unlikely[1]. On the other hand it happens very often for people suffering from bipolar disorder. Worse yet, treating bipolar with antidepressants alone causes severe complications, shortens period of cycling, deepens depressive and manic episodes.

      What I'm trying to tell you, is that there are millions of people out there with undiagnos
  • It won't be long until we know if Larry Niven was right about brain stimulation. If the current makes you feel better, will you be less likely to switch it off?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by pla (258480)
      It won't be long until we know if Larry Niven was right about brain stimulation. If the current makes you feel better, will you be less likely to switch it off?

      Niven didn't pull that idea out of nowhere - He based in on experiments on rats and chimps contemporary with his writing that found they would rather zap their brains than eat, sleep, have sex, or take favored drugs such as cocaine and heroin.

      So yes, it would almost certainly have the exact same effect on people. Imagine the best orgasm you've
      • by vertinox (846076)
        So yes, it would almost certainly have the exact same effect on people. Imagine the best orgasm you've ever had, while eating your favorite meal, while high on your favorite intoxicant, then quadruple that. The most restrained willful human alive would turn into a drooling zap-junkie, no question at all.

        One of the points I always raise when transhumanism is involved (and technically that person in this story is you could define as a low level transhumanist) is that given complete control of your brains inne
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 23, 2007 @07:41AM (#20718199)
    Now I know why I've been happier since I was abducted. Oh wait, this is about a brain probe...
  • by tjstork (137384) <todd@bandrowsky.gmail@com> on Sunday September 23, 2007 @07:41AM (#20718201) Homepage Journal
    say "we don't know why this works... but we think it makes you happy..."

    Yet, somehow, a good joint and a stiff drink are evil.
    • I haven't heard of anyone killing people because they were driving while under the influence of a cattleprod to the brain. I have however heard of it happening while smoking marijuana or alcohol.
      • by grumling (94709)
        Since there only about 50 people who have had the procedure done, there are no statistics available. Just wait until these are commonplace and the same people who hack iPhones will be happy to hack your brain implant to make you euphoric with the push of a button. The perfect drug, driven by software. Now excuse me while I buy some stock in Duracell.
      • by vertinox (846076)
        I have however heard of it happening while smoking marijuana or alcohol.

        But that number is still far less than those that killed under the influence of religion, collectivism, nationalism, and racism.
  • For those who have read Larry Niven's Ringworld or Spider Robinson's Mindkiller (and I am sure there are others) this sounds like the concept that thay have explored. Not to be alarmist but, the downsides of this being abused could be as big as any drug in history. I think while there could also be up side in that it is a drug that can be turned off. I personally like the chapter in Mindkiller where the main character finds a nearly dead wirehead while braking into her apartment.
  • by LuxMaker (996734) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @07:45AM (#20718229) Journal
    Exercise on par with drugs for aiding depression:: http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20070919/hl_nm/exercise_depression_dc;_ylt=AqwvsOoXYw0l3eNh11Gw1O0DW7oF [yahoo.com]

    So get unglued from your computers occasionally and get some fresh air. =)
    • 1) Isn't 202 kinda small for a study?
      2) Good luck trying to get someone who is so depressed they can't get out of bed to get the energy to go for a jog. On the other hand shoving a tablet down their throat takes minimal effort.
      3) Good luck finding a group of people who will be both understanding of your condition and able to exercise at the same times as you.
      4) The most severe depression sufferers I know typically exercise and take medication to combat their depression. One or the other simply isn't enough
    • I do it anyway but it anyways, but it used to annoy me when people would tell me how much better it would make me feel. If anything the exercise/drug comparison is really only an example of how ineffective our current batch of antidepressant really are and with the high level of hit-and-miss and the 'poop-out's' I'd imagine you could study doing just about anything consistently and find it was as effective or nearly as effective as antidepressants.

      Not that I don't believe exercise make some people happier
  • Citizen (Score:5, Funny)

    by Colin Smith (2679) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @07:52AM (#20718253)
    "You are now a class three citizen, your happiness level will be raised accordingly."
     
  • by Antique Geekmeister (740220) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @08:00AM (#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 hob42 (41735)
      This is true. I've been present for 30-odd DBS implants for Parkinson's in the past year. These use the same tech being used for these depression implants - and, in fact, DBS for Parkinson's sometimes causes exaggerated emotional responses, including uncontrollable crying or laughter. Sometimes, family members will tell the doctor that someone is a "new person" after surgery, doing or saying things they never would have expressed before - both in positive and negative ways.
    • by pz (113803)
      IAAN (I Am A Neuroscientist) who works on DBS and prostheses. The cochlear implants are considered peripheral (not central), and therefore not a part of the brain, so you really can't count the people with cochlear implants in the total numbers. But for total DBS implants there are many more than 50 patients.

      Last year, I attended a confidential conference where preliminary reports from Phase-1 clinical trials of DBS to treat major depression and OCD were being discussed. The total number of patients at th
  • Haven't they read The Terminal Man?

    Happy psychopathic serial killers, walking the streets, humming their little happy tunes....

  • by unitron (5733) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @08:59AM (#20718507) Homepage Journal

    ...it's estimated that fewer than 50 patients in North America are walking around with wires in their brain."

    Yeah, but I bet there's a much bigger number who think that they are!

  • I presume that women are not allowed to have such wires in Alabama.

    http://sexinthepublicsquare.wordpress.com/2007/02/15/q-when-is-a-vibrator-more-dangerous-than-a-gun/ [wordpress.com]

    Bert
    Who still wonders how Americans can sing about "home of the free"
  • Pacemaker for the brain, eh. So if I up clock rate of the pace...

    Excuse me, I'm going to look for the appropriate nitrogen ice cream recipes to keep my brain cool for what I have in mind. ;)
  • There are a lot of "may"s and "might"s in this article. They can try your brain first. I'll go second thank you very much.
  • Deep Brain Stimulation isn't necessarily a new technology. It has been helping folks with neuro-motor issues for awhile, with very good results for the most acute cases. It's not surprising to me that it's also been found beneficial for extreme cases of clinical depression.

    DBS basically consists of two electrodes implanted deep within the brain [youtube.com], paper thin wires are then run down the neck to a pacemaker type device in the chest. The device can be programmed to emit various waveform pulses at different frequ
  • My mom actually programs Deep Brain stimulators for Parkinson's patients. She says it's one of the most rewarding things in her career, and yet the real excitement is where we are with DBS is where artificial hearts were 30 years ago. She believes that in 30 years, it'll be a totally revolutionized science, and the possibilities are endless. Also, she's had some interesting stories about what happens if the turn the electrode to the wrong level. Stuff ranging from tingling and twitching to actual depressio
  • Do they need to improve the cooling to prevent your brain from crashing?
  • Kevin: I'd like to start off by saying that you look like a right guy. You look like a serious, straight-shooting guy. You're wearing a guy shirt. Why fashion?
    Dave: Well Darcy, it's just that I've always loved beautiful women. All my life I've loved them and I've loved the way that they, uh .... look. And I've always wanted to be a part of the beautiful woman in some way, an appendage to the beautiful woman. An arm or a leg to the beautiful woman in some way. So I think I should design clothes for the beaut

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