The extraordinary results of a recent pilot study for individuals with treatment-resistant depression are being met with cautious optimism by experts.
In the study, six out of seven patients experienced quick and dramatic improvement after receiving deep brain stimulation (DBS).
Major depression is a severe medical condition that affects one’s feelings, thoughts, behavior, mood and physical health. It is often a life-long illness in which periods of feeling well alternate with bouts of illness.
In the United States, depression affects 5 to 8 percent of adults each year. This translates to about 25 million Americans having an episode of major depression in any given year. Clinical depression is characterized by unrelenting depressive feelings, lack of energy and motivation, difficulty concentrating or being motivated, and incredible sadness nearly every day.
During DBS treatment, an electrode is attached to a pacemaker-like device which delivers small pulses of currents to areas deep within the brain in an effort to help regulate the brain’s own signals that are not functioning properly.
Already FDA-approved for treatment of Parkinson’s disease, DBS is currently being tested in several areas of the brain linked to depression.
“Treatment-resistant depression is a horrible disease. It can result in death, and people who live with it often have very difficult lives,” said Rothschild. “These impressive findings in the medial forebrain bundle must now be replicated in a double-blind fashion, like the study we’re doing with Brodmann Area 25—that’s the way to prove it.”
More research is needed to verify the findings of the clinical trial, said UMass Medical School physician-scientist Anthony Rothschild, MD. The author himself notes the limitations of the study’s small size and the fact that it was unblinded.
“Every patient knew they were receiving the treatment, which increases the likelihood of a placebo effect” said Dr. Rothschild, the Irving S. and Betty Brudnick Endowed Chair and professor of psychiatry.
“Studies like these are important first steps but, until you do the double-blind study in which some patients have the device turned on, and some do not, and the patients don’t know which group they are in, you can come to inaccurate conclusions.”
Source: Biological Psychiatry
Depressed man photo available from Shutterstock