The patient said “What did you just do? All my life I’ve been locked in a room with a thousand screaming children, and they just left the building” when she switched on the device.
Professor Helen Mayberg, a functional neuroimaging specialist, realised that Brodmann area 25 of the brain seemed to be implicated in depression. She developed a process for implanting an electrode in the brain to provide constant stimulus to this area, so regularizing its activity. She’s achieved absolutely astonishing results with people for whom every other kind of treatment has failed; psychotherapy, psycho-pharmaceutical interventions, transcranial magnetic stimulation, and electro-convulsive therapy. It’s brilliant, inspiring work, and is the first hypothesis-driven treatment for depression.
The treatment by Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) is titratable, the clinical response correlates with imaging studies and the procedure is well tolerated. This approach may represent an effective, novel intervention for severely disabled patients with treatment-resistant depression. It is already being used for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
While the study is very small with four of six patients showing remarkable and sustained improvement, it is potentially a step forward.