Brain Implant Offers Hope for Severely Depressed

For about 10 percent of people with severe depression, no available treatments work — not anti-depressant medicines, not psychotherapy, not even electroshock therapy. But now a revolutionary treatment that entails brain surgery shows preliminary promise in treating intractable depression.

Called deep brain stimulation, the experimental surgery involves the implanting of electrodes deep inside the brain to produce a constant, weak electrical stimulation to a target area in the brain — called area 25 — that plays a critical role in depression. By aiming a mild but constant electrical pulse directly into area 25, researchers think they can “recalibrate” the area back to normal functioning.

After surgery, the electrodes are left in area 25 and a wire is threaded out of the skull, under the skin and to the front of the chest. A tiny power pack beneath the skin controls the low-voltage electrical stimulation to area 25, and can be adjusted externally by placing a controller — like a TV remote control — over it. It’s like a pacemaker for the depressed brain.