Saturday, November 3, 2007

Deep Brain Stimulation

It's almost like science fiction when I think about it. Scientists have been exploring the brain for a long time now and it seems they've made a big breakthrough. A new-ish treatment called Deep Brain Stimulation is being researched in many universities.

The procedure involves taking two electric probes and inserting them deep within the brain to the place that needs the most electric stimulation. The probes are connected to a control pack that is implanted in the chest. The electricity is adjusted by a doctor until it is just right and the patient feels the most relief.

The procedure is complicated though, and very risky. A surgeon jabs big metal probes into someone's brain! The surgeon could slip and cause major brain damage. The probes could also run too much electricity and fry part of the brain. But it seems the benefits outweigh the risks.

Now, so far, I haven't mentioned what this treatment it for and I have done so for a reason. The doctors working on this treatment don't really know yet all the applications it can be used for. In the beginning, it was used to help Parkinson's patients control their tremors but now studies are being done on its applications in treating depression and Tourette's.

From the Popular Science article Happiness is a Warm Electrode, a woman with severe depression finally regains her life back because of this radical treament. It took her months just to work up the motivation to even call her psychiatrist about the new treatment she heard about. When she finally did, he helped plug her into the program as soon as possible. After many brain scans using an MRI, doctor use a titanium halo pinned to her skull, the scans and special software to map her brain so that the surgeon can safely place the electrodes. When they implanted them and got the electricity adjusted, the result was almost immediate. She was happy.

From another Popular Science article Shock to the System, doctors use Deep Brain Stimulation to awaken a man that was in an effective coma after a severe brain trama. After the probes were in place, he was able to move and talk again, whereas before he barely moved.

I think that this is one of the good things that are coming out of science lately. A lot of research has been done on the less ethically sound and its nice to know that at least some things are still easily black and white as to whether or not we, as humans, should be poking around where we're poking around.

Thanks again to Popular Science for the content and the picture.

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