Scientists have found a way to use deep brain simulations to identify depression, measure which areas of the brain it affects, and even fix the condition using neuroscience techniques.
By Jonathan Kloots | published
A new report from MIT Technology Review provides fascinating insight into how doctors treat depression using a leap forward in neuroscience that created a mood decoder. Using electrodes implanted in the human brain, the researchers were able to see the relationship between brain activity and mood. “This is the first evidence of successful and consistent mood decoding of humans in these brain regions,” says Dr. Sameer Sheth, principal investigator from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, which allows clinicians to determine how severe an individual’s depression is, and how best to treat it.
Researchers have been using deep brain simulation (DBS) to treat Parkinson’s disease for years, but using the practice to correct depression is finally becoming a reality from being a theory in neuroscience for generations. Initially, researchers tried using deep brain stimulation to treat depression, but the results were disappointing, leading to the study being declared inconclusive. By following the neuroscience technique used to administer brain surgery, Dr. Sheth’s team implanted electrodes all over a patient’s brain, probing multiple regions simultaneously as depression is never confined to just one brain region.
Dr. Reva Bose, one of the researchers on the project, says, “This will lead to significant advances in understanding depression and help come up with…neurostimulatory approaches.”
The researchers implanted four electrodes into a test subject’s brain, and attached a battery to the patient’s chest that would periodically send an electrical impulse through the electrodes. One patient, John, reported that his depression abated for six months, proving the neuroscience theory correct. Implantation of electrodes is clearly invasive and expensive, but the data from the trial could be used to create generalized ‘maps’ of brain activity, which would more easily allow other clinicians to treat patients with less invasive DBS techniques.
With only three patients so far, Dr. Sheth’s team has already found commonalities in the subjects’ brain regions. Using a “mood decoder” of baseline electrical activity, scientists can determine patients’ moods without resorting to asking subjective questions. Currently, depression is diagnosed through the interview process, which can be a flawed approach, making a sound objective diagnostic method a huge step forward for neuroscience.
The ultimate goal, according to Dr. Sheth, is to collect brain activity information non-invasively, ideally from a device placed on a patient’s head. Currently, brain scans are not accurate enough to identify electrical activity at an individual level, which can lead to depression going unnoticed, or to overexposure in other treatment, highlighting a current problem in neuroscience. Calculating the nearly infinite number of differences in the human brain is difficult even in the best of circumstances, let alone in people dealing with chronic, treatment-resistant depression.
Millions of people suffer from depression, and millions more go undiagnosed, making deep brain stimulation techniques to improve diagnosis and correct the condition the holy grail of neuroscience. With a successful small-scale study that was successfully presented at a recent neurology conference in San Diego last November, research team member Dr. Reeva Bose says, “This will lead to major advances in the understanding of depression and will come to help with … neurostimulation approaches.” Deep brain stimulation may not work for everyone who suffers from chronic depression, but the study results are promising and provide hope for everyone who is always told, “Just try and be happy.”
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