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Biotech Medicine Science

Treating Depression With Electrodes Inside the Brain 237

Posted by Soulskill
from the still-waiting-on-a-tasp dept.
cowtamer writes "CNN has a writeup on a method of treating depression with implanted electrodes. If this works, we may be seeing a lot more of this type of technology in the future. '[The patients] were lightly sedated when the holes were drilled and the electrodes implanted, but they were awake to describe what they experienced. Several patients reported profound changes just minutes after the stimulator was turned on. One said the room suddenly seemed brighter and colors were more intense. Another described heightened feelings of connectedness and a disappearance of the void.' While I haven't looked into any of the academic literature on this, it seems that yet another Larry Niven Prediction has come true!"
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Treating Depression With Electrodes Inside the Brain

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  • by Auroch (1403671) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @08:21AM (#39692219)
    It'll be interesting when people start getting this surgery as a performance enhancing drug [discovery.com].

    Though, I worry about the "drive by" hackings [medgadget.com].
    • Why not just use a drug that's known to work....like MDMA (aka ecstasy), to treat these people?

  • by thatkid_2002 (1529917) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @08:22AM (#39692221)
    I need electrodes for depression like I need several holes drilled in my head.
    • by 2.7182 (819680)
      This is great. I'll be able avoid ECT.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cdrudge (68377)

      A band-aid solution? After that comment, I'll presume that you aren't a depression sufferer of 40 years and multiple failed suicide attempts.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 15, 2012 @08:35AM (#39692293)

        A band-aid solution? After that comment, I'll presume that you aren't a depression sufferer of 40 years and multiple failed suicide attempts.

        Well, let's be honest. It would only take one successful attempt and you wouldn't have 40 years of depression.

        • by nbritton (823086) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @10:31AM (#39692963)

          A band-aid solution? After that comment, I'll presume that you aren't a depression sufferer of 40 years and multiple failed suicide attempts.

          Well, let's be honest. It would only take one successful attempt and you wouldn't have 40 years of depression.

          As someone afflicted with bipolar disorder, I got a nice chuckle out of that comment. It's true, suicide is very easy if you don't care about having an open casket or being in pain before you pass. I don't think anyone ever actually wants to die though, in my experience it's a means to an end. Going through these turbulent states is literally hellish torture; one resorts to suicide as a way to end that. I'd hazard to guess that I have PTSD just from that torture, and the act of trying to kill yourself is just as traumatizing. Gabbing a shank into your vain so you can bleed out to end the torture is not something most people will ever experience or relate with. I cried for hours because I thought I was never going to see my family or friends again, and the burden I would cause them in the aftermath; the pain was too much to bare though. In retrospect, I'm thankful that the nurse made rounds sooner than expected, because Lithium was able to calm the storm a few days after that. I had not been on Lithium prior to that, I have to say it's a truly remarkable drug... err.. element.

          • by NFN_NLN (633283) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @11:45AM (#39693473)

            A band-aid solution? After that comment, I'll presume that you aren't a depression sufferer of 40 years and multiple failed suicide attempts.

            Well, let's be honest. It would only take one successful attempt and you wouldn't have 40 years of depression.

            As someone afflicted with bipolar disorder, I got a nice chuckle out of that comment. It's true, suicide is very easy if you don't care about having an open casket or being in pain before you pass. Going through these turbulent states is literally hellish torture; one resorts to suicide as a way to end that.

            1) Watch the BBC documentary: How to Kill a Human Being (2008)
              a. There are many sources of the same information but they actually did a nice job
            2) Go to a welding supply shop and rent a pressurized gas cylinder with argon or nitrogen (inert gas)
            3) Go to a welding supply shop and buy a regulator (this will drop the pressure down to a usable level)

            You'll feel better just knowing the option exists and you're not trapped here...

            Just like computers everything has glitches; including the human body. When it comes to breathing the human body only panics when there is a build up of CO2 NOT when there is a lack of O2. If you can eliminate the CO2 and the O2 (which will convert to CO2) then the body won't panic. Breathing inert gas you'll just get tired and euphoric. Instead of pain you'll actually feel high! Eventually the lack of O2 will cause you to pass out. Everything starts to shut down. Before the brain shuts down you'll start convulsing as a last attempt to clear whatever is blocking the oxygen. When that doesn't work your brain will die.

            Remember people: Don't kill yourself with helium... it is a limited resource :)

            Posted non-AC so I don't get filtered out.

          • by AmiMoJo (196126)

            Posting AC for reasons that will become obvious...

            It's true, suicide is very easy if you don't care about having an open casket or being in pain before you pass.

            No, it really isn't. Throw yourself off a tall building? From the sixth floor upwards you will reach terminal velocity, but even so you have a ~10% chance of surviving. If you survive you might be crippled and will certainly attract attention that prevents you trying again. Remember, the goal is to die.

            Drugs are hit and miss and the effective ones are not easy to come by. Even if you pick the rights ones in the right doses you might throw up, and even if you

          • Die! DIE! The word is die . Not pass, like a test or a motorcar. Not "in a better place". Not "with the angels." Not "sleeps with the fish." Stop avoiding the issue. When someone stops living, he dies.
      • by shiftless (410350)

        Try ecstasy. It works. I didn't have to go through 40 years of hell; I escaped in my early 20s.

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      well, the description is that supposedly it's like being on shrooms 24/7 only enjoying the positive benefits.

      so.. really. why the fuck not? seems much like better solution than getting your brains scrambled with a stick.

      • Depression is relatively easy to cure short-term, drugs, electrodes, vacation, sky-diving, whatever. The trick is staying non-depressed when you feel trapped and unable to fix your perceived problems.

        There's an old joke about why ECT wears off after 6 months... it takes that long for the patient to remember just how bad their life sucks.

  • I'd love to try this. Unfortunately I'm an American and don't have health insurance. I'm sure the VA (my only "provider") probably won't get it for a long time.
    • by tomhath (637240)
      SInce this procedure is still in the experimental stage very few people will get it for a long time. Meanwhile I suggest you ask to be screened for depression [va.gov], the VA does treat it.
    • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @09:12AM (#39692507)

      Who needs health insurance? You need:

      • A car battery
      • Two ice picks
      • Jumper cables
      • A Black & Decker
      • A bottle of Jack Daniels as anesthetic

      Home cures are best.

    • It's still experimental, you may be able to get in as a study patient.

    • by ErikZ (55491) *

      Have you considered paying for it in cash? You know, like you'd buy a car or a house or almost anything else in your life?

    • Fortunately, I'm American, I pay for health insurance, and I appreciate that the insurance industry doesn't just lay out $30K for everyone who "wants to try something." Actually, I think they do far too much reimbursement for expensive, unnecessary tests and procedures already.

      I'm all for full coverage of appropriate treatments, but in the realm of depression treatment (and many others) there are a lot of very expensive treatments that should be saved until less invasive, less expensive things have been tr

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 15, 2012 @08:44AM (#39692347)

    The new all-purpose excuse.

    In addition to people crossing the street while yakking in their phones, college kids texting while walking, and crazed bicyclists weaving through city traffic while sipping Red Bull, we might have to start dodging people standing on the sidewalk saying, "Charging.... charging... charging...."

  • by jtownatpunk.net (245670) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @08:50AM (#39692379)

    I can't be the only person who remembers Stimpy's Happy Helmet.

  • Mixed feelings (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 15, 2012 @08:55AM (#39692409)

    On the one hand, I have long suffered from depression that resists all treatment. Some days, it is literally a fight to want to live just for that day, and the only thing that keeps me from suicide is the knowledge that my friends (the few I have) and family (who have mostly rejected me altogether at this point) would blame themselves. I don't think many people understand just how devastating Depression can be -- it can literally take away everything you value in life. The worst part is the blame: the attitude that, if you just "wanted" to be different, you would be. If this treatment could actually cure my depression, I would have to "go for it".

    On the other hand, I remember reading Terminal Man by Michael Chrichton, in which a similar technique was used to treat Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. The subject grew addicted to the stimulation from the computer, and literally turned into a homicidal maniac.

    • by gatkinso (15975)

      He already was a maniac. The shocks would simply "shut down" the homicidal thoughts.

      Unfortunately, during the surgery the doctor off handedly decided to put the electrode on a pleasure center figuring that the subject may as well be rewarded while being cured. Too bad the reverse happened - every time he thought about killing he was given a jolt to the pleasure center training him to think about killing even more. The jolts shut down the urge, but eventually he reached a point that he was being continual

    • by durrr (1316311)

      Stimulation addiction are not just fiction. It happened with some women that were given the controls and were allowed selfstimulation.

      The obvious solution is to either stimulates areas that will saturate immideatly and not gain further pleasure as stimulation is cranked up. Or simply precalibrate the device for automatic operation.

    • by timeOday (582209)
      This is your (real) life. Don't even give a moment's thought to some sci-fi author's brainfart. That's just fiction.
    • On the one hand, I have long suffered from depression that resists all treatment. Some days, it is literally a fight to want to live just for that day, and the only thing that keeps me from suicide is the knowledge that my friends (the few I have) and family (who have mostly rejected me altogether at this point) would blame themselves. I don't think many people understand just how devastating Depression can be -- it can literally take away everything you value in life. The worst part is the blame: the attitude that, if you just "wanted" to be different, you would be. If this treatment could actually cure my depression, I would have to "go for it".

      Have you tried recreational drug use? Specifically, hallucinogens? From my understanding of TFA, it sounds not dissimilar to the effects of low dose LSD, mescaline or psilocybin.
      I've also heard positive things about higher dose LSD use for depression, but that may require a bit more guidance and direction along with it.

      Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, and I am a relatively outspoken advocate of LSD and therefore can be considered to be strongly biased. However I hope that doesn't deter you from independent

    • I've been there, too.

      You may have heard this already, but in case you haven't, here are some things to might want to have checked by LabCorp (or whichever laboratory you get your blood tests done thru)

      (1) CD57 (Google Lyme Disease). This measures a specific subset of white blood cells that is suspected to be supressed by some chronic illnesses.
      (2) check your testosterone levels, free and total, sex hormone binding globulin, luteinizing hormone, and estrogens. When these things are out of whack, you can fe

    • by DaneM (810927) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @11:09AM (#39693213)

      I'd probably write this in a private message, but since you've (understandably) posted as anonymous, and since others might benefit from this information, I'll post it openly. Private messages are welcome, should someone wish to contact me.

      Before I continue, though, I have to ask something: I hope that those who read this will respect just how debilitatingly painful clinical depression (i.e. based on bad brain chemistry) is, and also how sensitive a topic it is, both to those who have it, and to those who don't understand it, and treat depressed people like garbage as a result. Truly, I can't imagine a more excruciating torture than having one's own brain be in constant, unbearable pain (in severe cases like mine, it goes beyond depression, into an intangible agony of the mind; and also manifests as severe, measurable physical symptoms). I honestly can't bring myself to wish such torment on any person or creature--no matter how evil. It can and does literally drive people insane, and in the face of this, I have a knowledgeable respect for those who decide that it's simply not worth living through any more such torture; those who haven't been tormented in such an ungodly way (yes, I do mean to imply theological conflict) can't even begin to understand the topic of depressive suicide, so I encourage you not to comment on it; simple kindness would be much more believable and meaningful. (I'm writing now about a possible solution, so please wait on such thoughts if you're having them.) I ask that any replies to this be respectful and not flippant/humorous. Thanks.

      I've recently found an unconventional treatment that has helped my severe depression (featuring suicidal ideation), after having thought (for good reason) that nothing was going to work. First, so that you can better determine if this is something worth looking into, I'll give you an abbreviated list of things I've tried, without success. In almost every case, the medicines and treatments worked after about a month of use, then stopped working, then made my depression worse than it otherwise would have been. Notably, I also suffer from anxiety, physical pain (muscles, joints, skin), and ADD (among others). The most sensible diagnosis I've gotten is fibromyalgia, and it's reached a disabling state. (Of course, fibromyalgia is largely used as a diagnosis that really means "we have no idea what's causing all this.") Here's a list of failures, and example name brands (what DOES work is below them):

      Tri-cyclic anti-depressants (Amitriptyline/Tryptomer)
      SSRIs (Prozac)
      Benzodiazepines (Xanax) (for anxiety)
      (Atypical) antipsychotics (Abilify) (in conjunction with other meds, to enhance them)
      Anticonvulsants (Lamotrigine/Lamictal) (for enhancing effects, as above)
      Lithium (used to treat [type 2] bipolar disorder and mood swings)
      SNRIs (Cymbalta)
      NRIs (Strattera) (for ADD, and as an enhancer)
      NDRIs (Bupropion/Wellbutrin) (for ADD, and as an antidepressant, and as an enhancer)
      Amphetamines (Adderal; this was exceptionally bad, especially in conjunction with Wellbutrin; it caused a psychotic panic attack) (for ADD and chronic fatigue)
      Azapirones (Buspirone) (for anxiety)
      Electro-convulsive therapy (A.K.A. ECT)

      The treatment that I finally discovered, and convinced my doctor to do some research on (i.e. look up as much info as possible) involves increasing the amount of glutamate in the brain--which is now thought to be a more "direct" influence on depression than seratonin, etc.--at least in the "tough" cases. This was discovered as a result of some doctors noticing the use of the street drug, Ketamine, for self-treatment of depression. (Ketamine has some serious/dangerous side effects, of course.) During trials, it was discovered that Ketamine (pain reliever), as well as Riluzole (used to treat Lou Gehrig's disease) and Scopolamine (for motion sickness and surgical nausea) were extremely effective in treating those with severe, "tough" cases of depression. Of the three, Scopolamine (as a transdermal

      • by tirefire (724526)
        Is scopalomine the only glutamate-enhancing treatment you've tried? Also are you dosing high enough to ever have hallucinations from it? I know that in high doses it is a deliriant (frank, often scary hallucinations in lieu of LSD-like technicolor laser beams) just like Benadryl. Does not sound like fun, especially for a severely depressed person. If all you've got is dry mouth, scopalomine sounds like a good deal.

        I would be interested to hear about how doctors are administering ketamine to patients
        • by DaneM (810927)

          tirefire,
          No, Scopolamine isn't the only glutamate-enhancing drug; both Ketamine and Riluzole do the same thing. My doctor and I settled on Scopolamine because its side effects are less than those of the other drugs. I understand that the Ketamine has been administered as an IV drip, but I don't know how fast or how often. The impression I got from the article and my doctor is that it wasn't very safe, the way it had to be done--which indicates to me that it's a pretty large dose, or at least large enough

          • by DaneM (810927)

            Update: I've submitted that link as a story. If anyone cares to moderate it into an accepted story, it should now be available for such. The words Ketamine, Riluzole, and Scopolamine are in the title, so it should be fairly easy to find.

            Thanks again for the suggestion.

    • by maestroX (1061960)
      Try and attend a running clinic
      Best of luck
  • *Facepalms* (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lightknight (213164) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @09:04AM (#39692461) Homepage

    Me thinks they are missing the point.

    Aside from genetic tendencies, depression is typically a form of feedback from your environment not being 'right' for you. And I am not talking about ecosystems here.

    So, while it is a scientific triumph (huzzah!) to find a temporary way to get around depression by sticking a wire in your brain, it's not one we should readily consider. Instead, we should focus on a more permanent solution, that of removing people from environments that would necessitate putting an electrode in their brains.

    On a separate note, I am surprised at the number of psychs / etc. who prescribe pills in preference to telling their patients that they need to quit their job / move somewhere else. Sometimes the solution isn't a bunch of SSRIs, it's moving to another state (across country), or quitting an abusive job.

    • by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @09:14AM (#39692529)
      There is rational depression (i.e. caused by obvious external circumstances) and depression with no rational cause. Among well known sufferers from the latter are Stephen Fry, Dr. Samuel Johnson and Winston Churchill. It has recently been argued that the reason this kind of depression does not get removed by natural selection is that it has protective value for the community; depressives seem to be good at thinking about the negatives and so are more likely to predict threats and outcomes (Churchill being an obvious case.)

      As an obvious example, Roosevelt took Stalin more or less at face value whereas Churchill was (quite rightly) deeply suspicious of him.

      If you take a non-rational depressive and move him or her to another job on the far side of the country, you will now have a rational depressive feeling even worse off because everything is new and unfamiliar. That is likely actually to increase suicide risk.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      depression is typically a form of feedback from your environment not being 'right' for you.

      Sure, and retarding the timing to avoid detonation is "right" for your engine, but if it's misdetecting detonation because of a faulty CPS then it's only going to cause you to lose power. See what I did there?

      • You cannot tell that it's not environmental if you don't first remove that person from the scope of that environment. Mistakes are made all the time about what exactly constitutes that person's environment; for instance, you'll move to a new home and a new job, but your overbearing parents will still be calling you and telling you that you amount to nothing in life. You may laugh, but it's common enough to warrant mention.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          You cannot tell that it's not environmental if you don't first remove that person from the scope of that environment.

          It's interesting you use the word "environment" because there's only one that we're discussing right now, and moving out of it is practically impossible. On the other hand, when there's no reason to believe that what you've seen in the lab (vis-a-vis the properties of CO2) isn't behaving the same way in the "environment" then you're really going to have to explain why, because extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    • by durrr (1316311)

      Quitting jobs and moving across the country may be valid for 18 year old extroverts that feel lost in life and have a excessively padded bank account to fall back on and no real responsibilities to haunt them. For anyone else. Not so much.

      Lifestyle adjustments are a lot more relevant, but the compliance for such adjustments are very low, even more so in depressed people that may feel very weak drives to do things.

      Pharmaceuticals are very easy to administer, thus they are used a lot, they do however leave a

    • If you don't know the disease, stop judging as if you knew it all.

      A lot of people with depression have tried all conceivable ways to cure their disease. Some people found their fix, some have tried everything yet it keeps coming back or even becoming worse. If "changing environment" is really sufficient, would you think they would be willing to have their brains drilled open just for the giggles?

      • As someone who has suffered from it, I'd more than most people (onlookers, quoting the DSM) about it. The major problem you run into is that the pysch professions' idea of 'changing your environment' involves men with butterfly nets and a new place quite similar, in many respects, to prison.

        I'd wager a fair amount of money that if you transported many a depression sufferer to a Caribbean island, and told them they never had to go home, they'd be cured. As such, it is environmental. We need only perform this

    • by wjcofkc (964165)
      That comment was so utterly ignorant and insulting I don't know where to start. You clearly are not a victim of irrational clinical depression. You have no idea what you are talking about.
    • by sjames (1099)

      We should, yes. Unfortunately, there is so much inertia involved in removing the unhealthy aspects of the modern lifestyle even just to accommodate people who suffer depression now is so high that it's far more likely and easier to wire the sufferers up.

      After all, if we relax enough to allow people to not fall into depression, we might have to reduce the unemployment rate and the TPS reports might be FIVE MINUTES LATE, OH NOES!!!

  • by Brian Feldman (350) <green@F r e e B SD.org> on Sunday April 15, 2012 @09:11AM (#39692503)
    Yet without any of the customary safety we come to expect by using natural compounds! Where can I sign up to have my head drilled into rather than trusting the wisdom of the ancients?!
    • by ErikZ (55491) *

      Experimental procedure is experimental.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      You're exactly right. This kind of electrical stimulation ends up overstimulating neurons and leading to a downregulation of excitatory neurotransmitter activity, much like that seen in NMDA receptor antagonists. And so it happens that at least one NMDA receptor antagonist, ketamine has remarkable antidepressive activity [medscape.com], producing relief in hard to treat patients withn a day of treatment. It also induces profound out of body experiences, and has been a popular recreational drug.

      I'd suggest that learning

    • If this proceduce can cure depression at a significantly higher rate that "natural compounds" (whatever that means) it will be a tremendous achievement. A breakthrough in depression treatment would be a incredible boon to humanity.

      Don't rejecting it simply because it's not "natural" or the procedure freaks you out.
    • Yet without any of the customary safety we come to expect by using natural compounds [wikipedia.org]! Where can I sign up to have my head drilled into rather than trusting the wisdom of the ancients [wikipedia.org]?!

      Linkified that for you.

  • Am I the only one for whom the video abruptly ends about a minute and a half in?
  • by Aphrika (756248) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @09:21AM (#39692565)
    ...going for a walk [bbc.co.uk]. A good walk works wonders and is a little less extreme than electrodes in the brain. That said, my depression was a side effect of a long term illness and the walking may have had other health benefits that improved my mindset.

    That said, walking might not be a great idea if you'd lost your job, sold your car, etc. etc...
    • by FrootLoops (1817694) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @10:06AM (#39692807)

      It's important to note that the patients discussed had severe depression which resisted other forms of treatment:

      She tried a variety of treatments, including talk therapy and psychiatric medicines, but nothing worked.

      St. Jude is hoping to win Food and Drug Administration approval for commercial use of DBS for treatment-resistant depression.

      The summary and title could be taken to imply (incorrectly) that this treatment is aimed at depressed people in general. It's still brain surgery, you need an implanted battery, and it doesn't work on all patients.

  • by nurb432 (527695)

    Wireheads on the horizon.

    Darwin at work.

  • Effects (Score:4, Funny)

    by nurb432 (527695) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @09:54AM (#39692741) Homepage Journal

    One said the room suddenly seemed brighter and colors were more intense. Another described heightened feelings of connectedness and a disappearance of the void

    LSD is cheaper, and you don't need any extra holes in your head.

    • by Shavano (2541114)

      As long as you don't mind not being able to gtell further what you are seeing, hearing and feeling is real.

  • Tho more bulky, the same results could be gained from electromagnets positioned properly to create small induced currents in various parts of the brain, and be non invasive.

  • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @10:09AM (#39692821)

    Like many of the more readable writers, certain concepts were simplified. The "droud" in Niven's books stimulated pleasure centers. Doing this is different than relieving depression. Admittedly, the brains wiring isn't following such neat little concepts, but conceptually, relieving depression so you can feel normal is very different than seeking pleasure for its own sake.

  • Or you could just supplement your diet with B-complex vitamins. Sometimes the simpler method really is best.
  • And now you can imagine. You'll be tuning in radio stations just by thinking about it. Solar storms will either make you feel like crap or really wake you up. Insurance companies will increase your rates because your now far more likely to be struck by lightning. You won't need a wireless presence indicator anymore, your friends will just ask you to home in on one. When the TSA scans you, the agents will call you a skull bomber. But, on the bright side, my hopes the wold will become a simile for 'John
  • That actually sounds rather dangerous! What happens if the electrode malfunctions? Instead of treating depression, why don't we look for what causes it and an organic cure for it? I am not a big fan of symptom mitigation. Could it be the chemicals in our food? Could it be air pollution reducing the amount of oxygen getting to our brains?
  • "If a person who indulges in gluttony is a glutton, and a person who commits a felony is a felon, then God is an iron." -Spider Robinson

  • Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) via electrical impulses has been around for about two decades as a means of treating depression. It's a bit of a method of last resort though because it's rather invasive, and not all patients benefit from it. Even the currently-reported work isn't that new, the story about the crocus blooms has been going around for a couple of years now. It's certainly exciting work, but still quite bleeding-edge, and like VNS is expensive and invasive enough that it'll remain a method of

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