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Biotech Science

FDA OKs Brain Pacemaker for Depression 456

Duke Machesne writes "On Friday, the FDA approved a new therapy for the severely depressed who have run out of treatment options: a pacemaker-like implant that sends tiny electric shocks to the brain. The Food and Drug Administration's clearance opens Cyberonics Inc.'s vagus nerve stimulator, or VNS, as a potential treatment for an estimated 4 million Americans with hard-to-treat depression - despite controversy over whether it's really been proven to work."
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FDA OKs Brain Pacemaker for Depression

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  • by Gothmolly ( 148874 ) on Thursday July 21, 2005 @01:29PM (#13126144)
    let the numerous tinfoil hat references begin!
  • by Trixter ( 9555 ) on Thursday July 21, 2005 @01:29PM (#13126148) Homepage
    First post! (Always wanted to say that) But in reality, isn't this the same treatment for severe cases of Parkinson's? Have those patients shown mood changes as well?
    • by Jeffrey Baker ( 6191 ) on Thursday July 21, 2005 @01:31PM (#13126190)
      I don't know about parkinson's, but the same device is used to treat severe epilepsy.
      • Yes, what the grandparent is probably thinking of is a deep brain stimulator [], where an electrical device delivers stimulation directly to the brain, usually in the thalamus or globus pallidus. A vagus nerve stimulator is not implanted in the brain, it's implanted in the chest and stimulates the vagus nerve, which is a peripheral nerve that carries sensory information to the brain from the viscera.
    • by Rosco P. Coltrane ( 209368 ) on Thursday July 21, 2005 @01:47PM (#13126451)
      isn't this the same treatment for severe cases of Parkinson's?

      No, the device you're thinking of is the thalamic stimulator []. It's implanted in the brain, with the patient conscious, and I read somewhere that the results are dramatic, so much so that surgeon looks at the patient's hand, probes on the thalamus with the electrode to find the right spot, and when he finds it, the shaking instantly stops. I hear when the implant is in place and working, the only reminder of Parkinson's disease left is slowness of movements, but no more tremors.
      • Perhaps you are correct, but I'd like to point you to the third paragraph of TFA:
        The pacemaker-like implant has been sold since 1997 to control intractable epilepsy, a much smaller market.
        If perchance you happen to be more in the know than I am on the subject (which wouldn't be very difficult), perhaps you wouldn't mind enlightening the curious as to the difference between the two?
  • by jarich ( 733129 ) on Thursday July 21, 2005 @01:29PM (#13126152) Homepage Journal
    Shockings will continue until morale improves!
    • Borrowed from the internet

      I keep hearing authorities on public radio applying logic to who and what we are that, if applied to a TV set, might run as follows: Though tradition claims that there is life beyond this TV set, a life that continues after its demise --actual living beings who create these moving pictures, the TV set being only a means of presenting them to others --we know, scientifically, that this cannot be the case. Here is the evidence:

      1. Obviously, nothing of the life you see on a TV set
    • This sounds ominous, like the plot from a book I read a few months ago called The Terminal Man. Same author who did Sphere, but it was about a guy who got an implant to help him battle severe seizures that caused him to kill somebody. Eventually he trained himself to make the seizures happen at will, and caused a brief stimulation of his pleasure centers.

      He broke out of the hospital and went on a kill rampage because the shocks started becoming too frequant for the implant to work, so he'd cause a seizur
  • by Umbral Blot ( 737704 ) on Thursday July 21, 2005 @01:30PM (#13126161) Homepage
    I wouldn't trust it. My room/cell mate had one and it didn't seem to do him any good, although his was for treating epilepsy.
  • I want my tasp! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by darkgumby ( 647085 )
    Wuhoo! Now I can be a wirehead with FDA approval.
    • Wuhoo! Now I can be a wirehead with FDA approval. Why is this Flamebait? My first thought too was of Gil Hamilton's old crew mate's face grinning at him with a wire running from his skull to the wall. Belter tan and all.
    • Actually the tasp was the remote version of it, so you could "Make someone's day" by remotely You are thinking of a droud.
    • by phorm ( 591458 )
      (for whomever labelled this as flamebait)

      This is a reference to Niven's universe, I've heard it first mentioned in the book "Flatlander." Basically, a wirehead is somebody who has become a current addict. A hole is drilled into the skull, and a wire inserted into the pleasure center of the brain.

      The end result is that the person becomes addicted to the pleasure supplied by the device, worse than a cokehead or heroin addict.

      Addiction should be something we should be careful of, we don't need "wireheads
      • by nyrk ( 779328 ) on Thursday July 21, 2005 @01:59PM (#13126652)
        Actually, as far as classes of addicts, wireheads would be the easiest to deal with. There is no illegal supply chains for the trafficers to maintain. No one needs to be killed over a few miliamps of electricity. And the wireheads tended to conveniently remove themselves from society, and wither away in privacy, starving themselves to death in a state of bliss. Compare with heroin, crack, meth. converting all our addicts to this would be a boon to society.
  • by XxtraLarGe ( 551297 ) on Thursday July 21, 2005 @01:30PM (#13126181) Journal
    Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy, Joy!
  • by Paladin144 ( 676391 ) on Thursday July 21, 2005 @01:31PM (#13126195) Homepage
    Just imagine if you got one of these things implanted in your brain and it didn't work at all - that would be extremely depressing. :-)
  • *BZZT*

    Vagus baby, YEAA!!
  • Why not hook up another sense to the brain implant instead of random impulses?

    How about sonar or ultraviolet vision? Or hooking up an internet connection :-)
    • Because randomly stimulating a single nerve tract to cause the release of neuro -ransmitters is easy while the more precise stimulation needed for perception is very hard (and almost not at all understood). For those unfamiliar with neuro-anatomy the vagus nerve goes throughout the body and (primarily) picks up signals on heart rate etc. that are associate with an increased level of arousal. This nerve projects (again primarily) to the amygdala the brains "emotional center" so your brain knows your scared
  • *sigh* (Score:4, Funny)

    by mE123 ( 140419 ) on Thursday July 21, 2005 @01:31PM (#13126203) Homepage
    I'm sure there is something snappy I could say here... but I'm really not in to it today...

    I think I'm going to go back to bed
  • by Mister Transistor ( 259842 ) on Thursday July 21, 2005 @01:32PM (#13126213) Journal
    For the answer, read or watch Michael Crichton's "The Terminal Man". One of his better stories, from about 30 years ago.
  • Can you say Harrison Bergeron? I though you could.
    • Can you say Harrison Bergeron? I though you could.

      The Handicapper General would like to remind you of your required "equality" education [] ...

    • I kinda agree with you here.

      I'm a depressed person. While I've not been officially diagnosed, I think the recent suicide attempts have proven that.

      Now, I don't fucking want help. I rather like being this far below the average person. It's easier down here. No one understands that, and I'm expected to "get better" so that my friends and family will "feel better" about me.

      Why does depression have to be cured?
      • I'm a depressed person. While I've not been officially diagnosed, I think the recent suicide attempts have proven that.

        I'm not sure how much they "prove" at all, except that you want them to "prove" something.

        Now, I don't fucking want help. I rather like being this far below the average person. It's easier down here. No one understands that, and I'm expected to "get better" so that my friends and family will "feel better" about me.

        No, you're just a self-indulgent kid who wants to exploit some of yo
    • by sczimme ( 603413 ) on Thursday July 21, 2005 @01:59PM (#13126651)

      Can you say Harrison Bergeron? I though you could.

      You could say that, but you would be wrong:

      - The handicap helmet George Bergeron wore in the essay emitted sounds, not electric shocks.

      - The helmet was designed to keep George down, i.e. to disrupt his brain/thought patterns, not to resolve any problem he might have had (unlike the device in the article).

      One of many places to read Harrison Bergeron in its entirety. []

  • This is a new version of a much older device.

    The mjor obstalce scientists have been able to overcome is, when you turn the knob up to 4, you do not experience the symptoms of butt frenzy commonly associated with earlier versions of the device.

  • by guildsolutions ( 707603 ) on Thursday July 21, 2005 @01:34PM (#13126250)
    I wonder how hackable they would be to send 'pleasure' signals... Kinda like a star trekkie thing that keeps your brain in extacy for hours upon hours... That would be the life... who cares about money after that implant.

    Seriously, Depression is a dissease that affects almost everyone at some point in our lives. Those who cant be helped with alternative methods could serously benefit from such. Whats needed now is a way to determine if someone is clinincally depressed even if they are denying it. This might have pain and suffering of a local 13 year old who tried to take his own life last winter, but only succeded in making himself worse off.
    • Seriously, Depression is a dissease that affects almost everyone at some point in our lives. Those who cant be helped with alternative methods could serously benefit from such.

      I think the depression that this device is supposed to help is a more serious form that does not affect *everybody at some point*. Yes I've been depressed at times, but then I've been able to get over it without medication.

      This is for people whom medication can't help - not for people who got depressed because they forgot to pay a
    • Seriously, Depression is a dissease that affects almost everyone at some point in our lives.

      I think there's a distinction between true depression, which is a chronic weird state one cannot get out of, and that can get one to commit suicide in the worst cases, and "feeling down" or "having the blues", which everybody occasionally has as part of normal life, and which is usually connected to events in life.
    • by adagioforstrings ( 192285 ) on Thursday July 21, 2005 @02:07PM (#13126767)
      Ah, the Wire. []
    • I wonder how hackable they would be to send 'pleasure' signals... Kinda like a star trekkie thing that keeps your brain in extacy for hours upon hours... That would be the life... who cares about money after that implant.

      Wouldn't work. Our brains don't measure things from a zero baseline, they do comparisons. Things like "fun", "pleasure", and even "pain" exist only as their requisite stimuli diverge from a running average baseline. In other words, constant stimulation of the pleasure center would fairly

    • Whats needed now is a way to determine if someone is clinincally depressed even if they are denying it.

      Most likely the device will only be used on people with extraordinarily serious depression (psychosis, history of suicide attempts, etc.) for whom other techniques like psychotherapy and drugs have failed. Currently that is the case with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) [] -- in spite of the popular perception, it's pretty much a last-resort kind of thing, and I'd imagine any treatment involving surgery w

  • Please remember that the FDA has approved this device only for treatment-resistant depression. This is not first line therapy.
  • Depression isn't due to problems in the brain!
    • it's because they don't know the history of psychiatry. and ONLY tom cruise knows the history of psychiatry. and we should be happy, because one day he will be allowed to tell us the history of psychiatry that he knows.
    • by venicebeach ( 702856 ) on Thursday July 21, 2005 @02:02PM (#13126690) Homepage Journal
      Well, Tom Cruise is not entirely incorrect (although he's certainly insensitive, and somewhat insane).

      The idea of depression being "due to a problem with the brain" is something of a misconception; of course it is one that has been promoted and reenforced by pharmaeutical companies.

      Any mental state has a corresponding underlying physiology, but it really isn't correct to say one causes the other - to say the physiological state of the brain "causes" depression. Certainly when people become depressed that is associated with chemical changes in brain function. But cognitive behavioral therapy is (in most cases) as successful as drug treatment, and best results are when you use both. In other words, depression is cured by either changing thought patterns or by changing the chemical physiology of the brain, but really these two things are just two sides of the same coin.

      To say that depression is a simply physiological disorder is misleading at best. Since all mental function is grounded in the biology of the brain, any mental state can be affected through a physical intervention, but that doesn't mean the state is "purely biological" or "caused" by brain function. For example, neuroimaging studies have shown that some of the abnormal patterns of brain activation you see in obsessive compulsive disorder change as a result of cognitive-behavioral therapy, that is, changing thoughts and behavior without drugs.
  • Theory: Many instances of depression are due to social injustice, apathy, the slow pace at which society reforms itself. []

    Concern: If we drug or electrically stimulate ourselves to keep ourselves happy, social progress comes to a halt. We feel good about ourselves, even though horrible things happen around us.

    Here is a bibliography kept by AdBusters. [] I'm not sure how reliable a bibliography kept by AdBusters is, but these are things that we should be thinking about, and research that we should at least co
    • Except this isn't approved for many instances of depression. It is only approved for severe cases of clinical depression which most definately aren't caused by external causes.
      • Well ... in all fairness, severe clinical depression is very much on the rise. It must be caused by *something*.

        There's really not much difference between your mind and your brain. It doesn't have to be unrelated to your social environment just because it's very much a physical illness.
    • Then again, I certainly understand your concern because I think complacency is the root of a lot of problems that our society suffers from (see also, the most recent MS related article no matter when you happen to read this).

      However, while I know that most companies would want to use this as an instant fix to make the patient feel good no matter what, the scientific goal here is not to make the depressed 'happy' per se. Rather, the original goal of inventions like this as well as anti-depressants are to s
    • by DrEldarion ( 114072 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [0791uhcsm]> on Thursday July 21, 2005 @02:08PM (#13126784)
      This wouldn't be used to treat those people, though. This is a severe measure which would be used to treat people who have actual, chemical things wrong with them, who despite having EVERYTHING in their life going right, can still be thinking about suicide.

      Anybody who's known someone with REAL depression knows that it can be completely non-situational.
    • by gad_zuki! ( 70830 ) on Thursday July 21, 2005 @02:08PM (#13126787)
      There's a difference between depression which everyone gets and major or chronic depression which has nothing or very little to do with one's environment.

      The idea that treatment will stop progress is pretty ridiculous and the pollyanna-types have been screaming this Brave New World. Doesn't seem to be happening at all and the idea that its moral to deprive very sick people of treatment for the greater social good is kinda disturbing. If your society is at that point, then "social justice" has long left you.

      Also, I'd like to point out that in every democracy people tend to vote against their best interests and the interests of others over party loyalty, hot button issues, or just plain old fashioned ideology regardless of how they feel. In the US, the poorest states vote for the party which wants to dismantle the very social programs they depend on to get by. So the thesis itself sounds highly flawed to me.
    • Here's another theory:

      Youve so indoctrinated children and (now) adults into thinking that wishing makes it so, and that self-esteem is more important than objective results, or that no matter what, you're entitled to a 'fair' life, and a 'good' job.

      Guess what. Life isn't like that. So what does a college graduate do, when he finds that the world is a cold, hard place? Many things, becoming depressed is one of them.
    • Many instances of depression are due to social injustice, apathy, the slow pace at which society reforms itself.

      That may be true. However, I think it is still possible to distinguish between the depression which is a normal response to a poor environment, and pathological depression that needs treatment. It's like many other psychological responses that probably evolved because they were useful and healthy in certain situations, but can become unhealthy when the effect is disproportionate to the cause.

    • by div_2n ( 525075 ) on Thursday July 21, 2005 @02:29PM (#13127068)
      I find this theory to be extremely lacking. People don't think this way when it comes to treatments for heart disease, diabetes and things like that. Sure, some people should exercise more and lose weight to address their health issues, but there are some people that live unbelievably healthy lifestyles and still suffer from those type of ailments. Their bodies just don't respond to stimulus the right way.

      I do not know why people insist the brain is any different just because we "think" with it. There is no reason to expect that the brain has some special property about it whereby it is incapable of a fundamental structural physiological problem that can manifest itself in negative ways such as depression. Just as someone who is born full blown type 1 diabetic could never produce insulin without some type of surgical intervention, it is logical to expect that there are people born with physical problems with their brain that will prevent them from ever being completely normal regardless of how much of a mental effort they put forth.

      Just my $0.02.
  • by Frangible ( 881728 ) on Thursday July 21, 2005 @01:41PM (#13126354)
    The vagus nerve is tenth of twelve paired cranial nerves and is the only nerve that starts in the brainstem (somewhere in the medulla oblongata) and extends all the way down past the head, right down to the abdomen. The vagus nerve is arguably the single most important nerve in the body.

    The medieval Latin word vagus means literally "wandering" (the words "vagrant", "vagabond", and "vague" come from the same root).

    This nerve supplies motor and sensory parasympathetic fibres to pretty much everything from the neck down to the first third of the transverse colon. In this capacity, it is involved in, amongst other things, such varied tasks as heart rate, gastrointestinal peristalsis, sweating and speech (via the recurrent laryngeal nerve).

    The vagus also controls a few skeletal muscles, namely:

    * levator veli palatini muscle
    * salpingopharyngeus muscle
    * stylopharyngeus muscle
    * palatoglossus muscle
    * palatopharyngeus muscle
    * superior, middle and inferior pharyngeal constrictors
    * muscles of the larynx (speech).

    This means that the vagus nerve is responsible for quite a few muscle movements in the mouth and also is vitally important for speech and in keeping the larynx open for breathing.

    It also receives some sensation from the outer ear and part of the meninges.

    The vagus nerve and the heart

    Parasympathetic innervation of the heart is mediated by the vagus nerve. The right vagus innervates the SA node. Parasympathetic hyperstimulation predisposes those affected to bradyarrhythmias. The left vagus when hyperstimulated predisposes the heart to AV blocks.

  • Oh Yeah! (Score:5, Funny)

    by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Thursday July 21, 2005 @01:41PM (#13126360) Journal
    I'm really feeling down. I just don't know how long I can ZOT! Hey, I'm ready to rock and roll! I think I'll become president of the world! But that would mean having to find an apartment in a big city, and I wouldn't see my wife and kids very much, and I probably wouldn't get to watch reruns of Enterprise. Gawd, they cancelled Enterprise, I can't believe it, no more Star Trek, that's it I'm going to open this window and ZOT! Hey, good riddance, goddamn Enterprise, crappy acting, crappy stories, thank goodness there's Battlestar Galactica. Much better writing, interesting stories. And there's Doctor Who too. Great remake. But Christopher Eccleston isn't coming back for the second season. It'll fail for sure, then I won't have anything to watch and I'll sit in this apartment reading Slashdot crap on my computer. How can I deal with this? I think I'll tie rocks to my shoes and ZOT! Hey! That's okay, I've always got Slashdot. Maybe I'll get moded +48183 Insightful for this post, become King of Slashdot and supplant CmdrTaco! Oh, but then people will mock me, and call me a shill, and claim I do nothing but post dupes. I can't stand that. I'd rather ZOT! ZOT! ZOT! ZOT! ZOT!
  • Wow, I can't believe how many things people are constantly willing to throw electro shocks at.

    Hmmm, we've tried everything else...well, lets just trying zapping the living crap out of it and see if that helps!

    Check out the []:
    The only wiki source for politically incorrect non-information about things like Kitten Huffing [] and Pong! the Movie []!
  • When I saw it was being produced by a branch of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation.
  • I refuse to get any electrodes in my brain until Tom Cruise says it's ok.
  • Please turn off all electronic devices for take off (and then plunge straight into your depression)
  • I'll take a dozen, please!
  • Instead of FUD... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jurph ( 16396 ) on Thursday July 21, 2005 @01:52PM (#13126527)
    How about some more factual information? NPR [] has done several [] stories [] on this kind of treatment, and how it is (and isn't) used. This is not "rats push the button to feel good". This treatment involves a very precise electrical impulse delivered to the malfunctioning area of the brain; it is to electro-shock therapy what a bonsai knife is to a lawnmower, so the side effects, while not well-characterized, are likely to be orders of magnitude less intrusive.

    It's used in cases where the depression is not treatable with current drugs. These are people who are so seriously neurochemically depressed that suicide seems attractive for the relief it would offer. The best we could give them before was a hug and a doctor mumbling that they were "interesting," until eventually they gave up and killed themselves. Now we can offer them this, which has at least one major advantage over suicide.
  • How soon before we can get one of these implanted into Maverick's brain?
  • Psychology and neroscience are still unsure whether chemical imbalances and faulty electrical signaling are the causes or symptoms of depression. Therefore I'm sure that many people in the medical community consider this a treatment of the symptoms of depression rather than the underlying causes.

    This treatment would be akin to getting rid of someone's cough and runny nose and then saying the cold was cured. You haven't cured the cold, you've just stopped the visible symptoms of it.
  • by Quiet_Desperation ( 858215 ) on Thursday July 21, 2005 @01:56PM (#13126603)
    Because what happens in vagus stays in vagus.
  • Can we make it mandated that all telemarketers must have this product installed and if they don't remove a customer from there call list when asked or violate a do not call list, all the telemarkters at the company, the advertisers and the CEO of the maker of the product get shocked.

    O.k. I want it hooked up to the pain centers... O.k. we can do one for the pleasure center, and they get a mental orgasm when they remove some one from their call list and if they go a month with out crossing the do not call li
  • I may be wrong, but the VNS (vagus nerve stimulator) was originally marketed as an implantable solution to control certain forms of epilepsy (mostly clonic-tonic or grand mal seizures). My wife and I sat with a few specialists years ago while considering such a measure to help curb her epilepsy.

    The advice we ultimately adopted was that the VNS had too low a success-rate in reducing seizures (even in some cases increasing seizure ativity). That it would help those suffering from various physiological depre

  • POT!

    No, I'm serious. Bang a pot on a depressed person's head and watch them change moods almost instantly!
  • There was recently a NIMH report of mental illness in US stating up to a quarter of the population becomes clinically depressed sometime during their lifetime (old age and teens particularly vulnerable). This number sounded high to me, but I dont have a way of verifying it. I sometimes wonder if there is a "lobby" of psychotherapist and drug companies that "enhances" these numbers. Even googling for a URL to this study return a barrage of side-bar ads for therapists and drugs.
  • What I really need is Thethan approval.

    What Would Tom Do?


  • My wife is a psych major, so I've been regaled with stories of how people who are severely depressed undergo shock treatment. Yes, the shock treatment from yesteryear's mental wards, like in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Apparently it actually works quite well.

    A drawback is the loss of long-term memories - for good. But they have patients on tape saying they don't care; before the shocks they couldn't get out of bed because they were so depressed.
  • The "Smithers Injection".

    "Mr. Smithers? But I thought you were gay!"

    "No, I'm not, as long as I take these injections every ten minutes." *poke* "GYAARGHH!!! Woo hoo, I love boobies!"

    Seriously, though. I only suffer from mild depression, so I'm certainly not going to be looking into getting a vagus nerve stimulator, but I know people who are unable to function at all due to their messed up neurochemistries, and whose depression has resisted all treatments, medical and therapeutic. This is excellent
  • In fact they'll be compulsary.

    Its part of the Bush plan to reform social security.

    It''l bne fun. There'll no more old folks bitchin' about how it was better 'way back when.' And no more payments to make upon retirement. Nobody will be retiring.

    And the technology to do it all will be a little injector you carry around inplanted in your palm. It will be able to shock and inject all sorts of things.

    Eventualy, you'll get to screw a young Farrah Fawcett look-alike, except the girls, unless they want to, and
  • Doesn't this kind of sound like the v-chip inplanted into Cartman in the South Park movie?
  • by Heisenbug ( 122836 ) on Thursday July 21, 2005 @02:36PM (#13127161)
    Zoloft, IIRC, took 3 tries to find a study where it performed better than placebo, and when it did it wasn't all that much better (has *some* effect on 70% of cases, or the like). I may be misremembering, but the point is sound -- *all* depression treatments at this point have pretty high fail rates, and if you've seen serious depression, you know that *any* new tools are welcome.

    Elsewhere it's been pointed out that truly successful depression treatments could mask problems in our society, the same way that truly successful cancer treatments could mask pollution problems. That's true -- but if your mother is dying of cancer, it's sure hard to care ...
  • After seeing the flood of speculation and information based misunderstanding so endemic to a /. discussion, I thought I'd add a personal comment.

    My brother is 45 years old, and has had severe epilepsy since he was 3 years old. He is also learning disabled and orthopedically handicapped. Epilepsy, as you may or may not know, is the brain's equivalent of a 'lightning storm'. The cause varies, and the most common treatment is a combination of drugs and surgery to reduce either the beginning of the epileptic seizure or slow the propagation of the wave of activity across the cereberal cortex.

    In many patients, drug therapy has to be regularly fine-tuned or completely changed. Think of it as regular security patches, because the brain figures ways to hack around the chemical defenses. In some patients, the brain is so good at hacking through the barriers that drug therapy loses effectiveness. This happened to my brother.

    An FDA approved treatment for patients in this condition is the use of a Vagal Nerve Stimulator (VNS). He has a controller/power source implanted in his shoulder, a wire threaded up inside his neck, and the eletrode implanted next to the Vagal Nerve. This nerve is down in the brain stem / 'hindbrain'. Every 5 minutes the controller sends a signal(started at 250mv, it's up to 500mv) for 30 seconds into this electrode. If we want to, we can command a pulse our of sequence by passing a strong magnet over the controller.

    The results have not been Science Fiction Movie class miraculous, but they have been visible. For the first few days he would physically react to the pulses (facial tick/jerk, shoulder hunch, etc..). After three months, he no longer reacts as visibly.

    But, his grand mal seizure activity has dropped. His petit mal seizure activity has dropped as well. He's improving ! He is more alert, vocal, communicative, and is cracking jokes once again.

    I don't know how it will work on depression, but I can tell you from personal observation that it seems to work for epilepsy !
  • by H0ek ( 86256 ) on Thursday July 21, 2005 @04:31PM (#13128746) Homepage Journal
    Just last month my son had a VNS inserted. This was for epilepsy, and not for depression, and it was quite a trial to be approved for the device. But this was the last resort after years of drug therapy and before major brain surgery for the child. Here's a few observations that might help clarify the whole VNS system:

    It is an automatic device that delivers a specific frequency, amplitude, peak duration and general duration of electric shock. There is a "always on" mode where the shock is delivered for 60 seconds, followed by 66 seconds off, repeated indefinately. There is also a mode that is activated with a magnet. This mode is usually programmed to deliver the same frequency and duration, but more amplitude to the shock. The setting of these attributes is done via a PDA and a "wand".

    Hackable, I suppose. My curiosity had me wishing for a signal meter to find out the attribute-setting protocol (but dang if I left it at home). But will it solve depression? The only results I've seen are children 10 to 18 who have a life because of this little device. Other than helping regulate seizure behavior, the only obvious side-effect is a slight warbling of the vocal cords. If anything, my boy thinks it's cool that he's now a cyborg and shows off to his friends. He's happy so far, but the real results will come with time.

    As was the case for my son, I feel there should be a real medical need before having the VNS surgically inserted. In the case of seizures, it is difficult to operate without some method of control. I have never liked the amount of medications my son needed to refrain from regular seizures, and this seems like a reasonable alternative to having chunks of his brain surgically removed.

    If a subject has debilitating depression, then maybe the VNS would be worthwhile for them. But from my perspective, the VNS is a good thing.
  • Comparisons (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) * on Thursday July 21, 2005 @05:44PM (#13129586) Journal
    All the SF reference compared with this are wrong.

    All the comparisons about deep brain stim, anti-ictal stim, TENS, etc., are wrong. They're similar in that electricity is used. It's different according to the voltage, freqency and placement.

    As for the invasiveness of them (except TENS), that's not good, but we're working on it. If we can get TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) to focus down small enough, get a more portable power supply, and get a probe that's significantly smaller than the present ping pong paddle sized device, we'll have a definite improvement over the best available now.

Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed. -- Neil Armstrong