Depression can be a frighteningly persistent condition. Fortunately, researchers around the world are constantly working on new treatment options, such as the recently developed brain implant to treat resistant depression.
Overall, up to one-third of depressed patients do not respond to treatment or become resistant to treatment. No single medication or type of therapy works for them. For people with such treatment-resistant depression, the future may look particularly bleak.
Fortunately, such a patient was able to participate in a case study being conducted by the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Neuroscience Research Group; the group's project was to explore deep brain stimulation techniques that could potentially alleviate symptoms of depression.
While the idea of implanting a small device in our skull may seem daunting to some, deep brain stimulation has already been used successfully for other brain conditions such as Parkinson's disease and epilepsy.
But depression is much more complex than either of these diseases. So far, the results of deep brain stimulation for depression targeting specific areas of the brain have been mixed and mostly disappointing. However, the UCSF team has made significant changes to this type of therapy.
Instead of applying the same brain stimulation procedure to all patients, the researchers manually tracked where in a particular subject's brain depression manifested itself. They identified a biomarker - in this case, a specific brain wave pattern - that had not previously been detected in major depressive disorder, and used it to personalize the device to stimulate the brain only when and where that biomarker was expressed.
It should be emphasized that this new successful result has only been achieved in one patient so far. There have been many other deep brain stimulation studies that have not been successful in trials. It is unknown how this approach will prove itself over time.
Illustration: UC San Francisco (UCSF)