Deep Brain Stimulation And The Treatment Of Many Medical Conditions

2011-02-18 | |
Last updated: 2011-02-18

The idea of applying electricity to the brain might conjure an image of the birth of Frankenstein for some. For others, the idea can bring to mind the controversial use of electroshock therapy in treating depression, psychosis and schizophrenia – sometimes against the will of the patient. Indeed, given the importance of brain operation in defining who we are, the application of electricity to the brain is not typically viewed in a positive light.

Given the intensely complex interconnections of the nerve cells in the brain and the perceived risk of life-altering injury, it is quite understandable to consider such a treatment as primitive. However, the application of electricity in this manner, called Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS), is currently showing benefit for many patients. At the same time, research into the use of the technology is also uncovering other applications for this treatment to other illnesses.

What Is Involved In Deep Brain Stimulation?

For those patients who can benefit from the treatment, Deep Brain Stimulation is provided by a surgically implanted medical device. The device fundamentally consists of an electrical signal generator attached to wires that are placed at specific locations within the brain. In contrast to electroshock therapy, the amount of energy applied to the brain by Deep Brain Stimulation devices is between 100 to 500 times less. While this reduction in energy does not automatically mean that the treatment is safe, it certainly suggests more subtlety to the effects than those of electroshock therapy.

While the benefits of DBS have been observed for some time, the reason for their effectiveness was largely unknown. One theory was that the applied electricity provided its desired effect by disrupting the brain’s electrical signaling in close proximity to the wires. Only very recently has research from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory determined that the treatment increases in the number of neurons or nerve brain cells in the area of the brain responsible for memory emotions and behavior. The treatment causes some of the same benefits as seen from physical exercise and medications like Prozac.

Despite being researched as far back as the 1960s, Deep Brain Stimulation was not available for patient treatment in the US until 1997 when it was first approved for treating seizures and tremors. Subsequently, in 2002, it was approved for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Since that time, it has also been applied to the treatment of chronic pain and major depression. Even though it has been a treatment option for a number of years, its use is still often reported by the media as new.

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Category: General Health, Medical Research, Medical Treatment

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