Sunday, April 09, 2006 04/13/06-Surgery and Depression

In today's excerpt, experimental surgery in the cases of extremely depressed patients where drug and talk therapy have not been successful:

"Finally, in the spring of 2004...Dr. Gebreihiwot Abraham received a fax from a University of Toronto research team asking if he had an appropriate candidate for a clinical trial of a new, experimental surgery for treatment-resistant depression. The operation borrowed a procedure called deep brain stimulation, or DBS, which is used to treat Parkinson's. It involves planting electrodes in a region near the center of the brain called Area 25 and sending in a steady stream of low voltage from a pacemaker in the chest.

...(Researchers) found that Area 25 was smaller in most depressed patients; that it lighted up in every form of depression and also in nondepressed people who intentionally pondered sad things, that it dimmed when depression was successfully treated; and that it was heavily wired to brain areas modulating fear, learning, memory, sleep, libido, motivation, reward and other functions that went fritzy in the depressed.

...As it turned out, 8 of the 12 patients he operated on...felt their depression lift while suffering minimal side effects--an incredible rate of effectiveness in patients so immovably depressed. Nor did they just vaguely recover. Their scores on the Hamilton depression scale...(became) essentially normal."

David Dobbs, A Depression Switch?, The New York Times Magazine, April 2, 2006, pp. 52-3


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