Researchers treat depression using a new type of deep brain stimulation

For people who suffer from severe depression, sometimes treatment is very difficult. While medications help many depression sufferers, for some, typical medications and treatments don't work. Researchers from the University of California San Francisco have announced the results of a new study they believe highlights a new type of treatment for patients with severe depression.

Researchers have developed a precise approach to managing treatment-resistant depression by identifying and modulating circuitry inside the patient's brain associated with symptoms. The treatment uses deep brain stimulation (DBS), which in past clinical trials has had limited success. Challenges with using DBS typically involve the fact that constant electrical stimulation can only be applied to one area of the brain.

However, depression could involve different areas of the brain in different people. One of the key discoveries in the new trial was the discovery of a neural biomarker in the form of specific patterns of brain activity indicating the onset of depression symptoms. The team optimized their DBS device only to respond when it recognized that specific pattern in the brain.

In the study, the customized approach was able to alleviate depression symptoms in the patient almost immediately. By comparison, other DBS methods require 4 to 8 weeks of treatment before any relief in symptoms was noted. The new study combined important discoveries from past research into a complete treatment to alleviate depression.

The clinical trial found that the team can deliver customized treatment to a person with depression. The DBS device the team developed is invasive and required the implantation of electrode leads into the brain, where the team discovered the biomarker for depression in the patient. One of the implanted leads constantly monitors the brain region responsible for the depression in the patient, while the other lead delivers a 1mA dose of electricity for six seconds, causing the neural activity to change. Researchers on the project are clear that while the results are promising, their success is only in the first patient in the first trial.