Thursday, April 06, 2006

A Depression Switch?

This article looks at a new operation that can cure depression.

The operation borrowed a procedure called deep brain stimulation, or D.B.S., 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.
Instead of treating the brain like a bag of chemicals, the technique here treats it like an electric system.
"So we turn it on," Mayberg told me later, "and all of a sudden she says to me, 'It's very strange,' she says, 'I know you've been with me in the operating room this whole time. I know you care about me. But it's not that. I don't know what you just did. But I'm looking at you, and it's like I just feel suddenly more connected to you.' "

Mayberg, stunned, signaled with her hand to the others, out of Deanna's view, to turn the stimulator off.

"And they turn it off," Mayberg said, "and she goes: 'God, it's just so odd. You just went away again. I guess it wasn't really anything.'

"It was subtle like a brick," Mayberg told me. "There's no reason for her to say that. Zero. And all through those tapes I have of her, every time she's in the clinic beforehand, she always talks about this disconnect, this closeness and sense of affiliation she misses, that was so agonizingly painful for her to lose. And there it was. It was back in an instant."

It worked that way for other patients too. For those for whom it worked, the first surges of mood and sensation were peculiar to their natures. Patient 4, for instance, was fond of taking walks, and she had previously told Mayberg that she knew she was getting ill when whole landscapes turned dim, as if "half the pixels went dark." Her first comment when the stimulator went on was to ask what they'd done to the lights, for everything seemed much brighter. Patient 5, an elite bicycle racer before his depression, told me that a pulling that he had long felt in his legs and gut, "as if death were pulling me downward," had instantly ceased. Patient 1, who in predepression days was an avid gardener, amazed the operating room by announcing that she suddenly felt as if she were walking through a field of wildflowers. Two days after going home, she put a scarf over her shaved, stitched head, found her tools and went out to reclaim her long-neglected gardens.
That is pretty amazing. Better living through chemistry is replaced by better living through electricity.

via New York Times Magazine

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.