All three patients have been suffering from very severe depression for several years which could neither be brought under control using medication nor by other therapies. During the simulation the condition of two of the three patients improved within a few days. Initial changes were even noticeable in a matter of minutes. The research team warn against exaggerated expectations in view of the small number of patients involved. Nevertheless, the results of the preliminary study are so sensational that they have now been published in the renowned journal Neuropsychopharmacology (doi:).
In deep brain stimulation (DBS) electrodes are implanted selectively in certain areas of the brain and are stimulated using an electric pulse generator. Up to now the procedure has mainly been used in the treatment of Parkinson’s. It is currently being investigated whether it also helps with certain psychiatric diseases such as compulsive behavioural disorders. Initial tests on about two dozen patients worldwide also show that it could possibly also have an effect in the case of severe depression.
Previous tests have concentrated mainly on two areas of the brain in particular. ‘By contrast we stimulated a third region, the nucleus accumbens,’ the Bonn Professor of Psychiatry, Thomas E. Schläpfer, explains. The nucleus accumbens is an important part of what is known as the ‘reward system’. It ensures that we remember good experiences and puts us in a state of pleasurable anticipation. Without the reward system we would not make plans for the future, simply because we could not enjoy the fruits of these plans. ‘Inactivity and inability to enjoy things are two important signs of depression,’ Profesor Schläpfer emphasises. ‘The conclusion is therefore obvious that the nucleus accumbens plays a key role in the genesis of the disease.’
Initial effects minutes after onset of therapy
In their study the researchers report on two men and a woman who have been suffering from very severe depression for years. The researchers implanted electrodes in the nucleus accumbens, which they were able to stimulate using an electric pulse generator in the chest. Some of the effects were observable instantly. ‘One of the patients expressed the desire to go to the top of Cologne Cathedral a minute after the start of the stimulation and put this into practice the next day,’ Thomas Schläpfer says. ‘The woman treated was similar. She said she would enjoy going bowling again.’ Nevertheless, the patients did not notice a direct improvement in their mood. Nor could they tell whether the pulse generator was switched on or off.
In the first few days of the DBS the symptoms of depression improved significantly in two of the three patients. Their condition remained constant for as long as they were undergoing treatment. However, as soon as the pulse generator was switched off, the depression recurred with full intensity. ‘The recurring symptoms were so severe that for ethical reasons we could not permit the treatment to be interrupted for as long as we had originally planned,’ Professor Schläpfer emphasises.
While psychotropics generally interfere with the biochemistry of the brain, DBS acts locally in the affected areas. The doctors did not observe any side effects like those occurring after the use of antidepressants. The patients only complained about post-operative pain at the site of implantation. In the long term DBS does not seem to pose any major risks. There have been patients with Parkinson’s who have been using this kind of brain pacemaker for more than ten years without experiencing any problems.
Even so, the research team caution against exaggerated expectations. ‘Of course, with so few patients, these are only fairly preliminary results,’ Professor Schläpfer says. ‘Our follow-up experiments are showing even now that by no means every patient will respond to this therapy.’ In the case of operations on the brain, in particular, ethical factors also need to be taken into account, not least because such operations are always risky. For that reason, there were particularly stringent conditions attached to the patients’ consent. ‘One thing has certainly been demonstrated by our research and that of others: DBS can help some people with depression even in cases which were assumed to be resistant to therapy.’
Prof Thomas E. Schläpfer | alfa
Inflammation Triggers Unsustainable Immune Response to Chronic Viral Infection
24.10.2016 | Universität Basel
Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia
21.10.2016 | Universitätsklinikum Magdeburg
Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.
This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...
Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion
Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences
25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering
25.10.2016 | Process Engineering