Brain Pacemaker

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is widely used to treat debilitating neurological symptoms of diseases like Parkinson’s, and devices that selectively deliver stimulation to the brain in response to abnormal activity are already being used to successfully treat drug-resistant epilepsy. But a recent study indicates that the technology could also help people suffering from severe depression.

The patient studied is a 36-year-old woman who was experiencing suicidal thoughts several times an hour. Numerous tests were conducted to determine what electroencephalographic (EEG) brain patterns should trigger the device and where the implant should be positioned within her brain. Within a few months of receiving the implant, the patient was entering remission from her depression with no thoughts of suicide.

Although this preliminary report represents a single subject, the researchers are hopeful that their targeted approach to DBS will yield similar results in future subjects as well. Unlike traditional DBS system that have been tried as a treatment for depression, this method is fine-tuned to each individual. And rather than delivering continuous stimulation 24 hours a day, the new technique stimulates the brain only when symptoms warrant.

The trial will continue to follow the patient to determine how long the implant will be needed. The researchers also plan to enroll additional patients in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the system for a broader range of etiologies.

For information: Katherine Scangos, M.D., University of California-San Francisco, School of Medicine, 401 Parnassus Avenue, A307C, San Francisco, CA 94143; Web site: or