Can a brain implant cure depression?

A brain implant that zapped a patient ~300x a day helped to treat depression. Is this approach scalable?

OK, this one is a bit out there.

Can a brain implant cure depression?

According to MIT Technology Review, a 36-year-old California woman effectively treated her chronic depression by surgically placing implants in her skull and receiving up to 300 electric zaps a day.

The zaps only occur during the day, so as to not stimulate her while sleeping.

A team from the University of California, San Francisco…

… conducted the treatment, which requires a number of steps:

  • Electrodes were used to map her brain activity over 10 days
  • The team discovered that high levels of activity in her amygdala predicted depression
  • The symptoms were offset by implanting a neurostimulation device that sent electricity to another part of her brain

This treatment — known as deep brain stimulation — has already been used by 10s of thousands of Parkinson’s and epilepsy patients (the depression use case required an FDA exemption).

Depression treatment is different, though

The reason: every person has different parts of their brain affected (hence the mapping). Also, the solution is currently not very scalable.

“It’s an invasive, expensive procedure that requires weeks of fine-tuning and a full day of surgery,” MIT Technology Review states.. “[So] it is only really suitable for those in whom other treatments have failed.”

Still, this out-there solution provides hope for those who have unsuccessfully tried everything else.

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