A team of researchers from the University of California, San Francisco Health has successfully treated a patient with severe depression by targeting the specific brain circuit involved in depressive brain patterns and resetting them thanks to a new intervention to prove the concept.
Although focusing on one patient, the groundbreaking study that is now published in Natural medicine, is an important step towards advances in neurology and the treatment of mental disorders, potentially helping millions of people suffering from depression.
Union of Neurology and Psychiatric Disorders
Traditional deep brain stimulation (DBS) has had limited success in treating the condition under discussion, in part because of the devices used. Most can deliver continuous electrical stimulation to only one area of the brain at a time. In addition, depression can affect different parts of the brain in different people, and there are many people with the condition who do not respond or have become resistant to treatment. There are no medications or therapies to help in this situation.
To correct this, the researchers developed a strategy based on two previously unexplored psychiatric steps: Mapping the patient’s depressive circuit and characterizing their “nerve biomarker,” which is a specific pattern of brain activity that shows the onset of symptoms.
After identifying the biomarker, the researchers implanted one electrode wire in the area of the brain where the biomarker was found and another in the patient’s “depressive circuit.” They then customized a new DBS device that would respond only when it recognized a specific pattern of brain activity, allowing them to modulate the circuit. With an implanted device, the first wire will detect the biomarker, while the second will generate a small amount of electricity deep in the brain for six seconds.
The brain implant treats resistant depression
In this way, the researchers were able to successfully treat the patient’s resistance to treatment and create an immediate therapy tailored to the patient’s brain and the neural circuit that causes the disease.
The patient’s symptoms of depression are relieved almost immediately and last for more than 15 months during which they implanted the device.
“The effectiveness of this therapy showed that not only did we identify the correct brain chain and biomarker, but we were able to reproduce it at a completely different, later stage of the test using the implanted device,” said first author, UCSF psychiatrist Catherine Scangos. “This success in itself is an incredible advancement in our knowledge of the brain function that underlies mental illness.”
Although it is necessary to emphasize that the remarkable result was achieved in only one patient, the change that one patient has experienced is innovative, showing how much it could help millions of people suffering from depression if he manages to pass the research environment and find viability in the outside world.
For the next step, Scangos says, “We need to look at how these chains vary in patients and repeat this work several times. And we need to see if the brain biomarker or the brain chain changes over time as treatment continues.”