Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is a unique treatment used to treat a very small minority (less than 1%) of patients with epilepsy and depression. The treatment involves a small battery-operated device that delivers intermittent, rhythmic pulses to the vagus nerve, a nerve that reaches a half dozen areas of the brain that are thought to be critical to treating depression.
However, VNS has been studied as a treatment for depression since 2000 (perhaps even earlier) and was approved by the FDA as a medical device for the treatment of depression over 2 years ago, in 2005.
So it leads us to question how the following love letter, penned over at Wired by Marty Graham and entitled, “Brain ‘Pacemaker’ Tickles Your Happy Nerve adds anything new to our understanding of this treatment. To start with, the title of the article is an insult to anyone who suffers from or has ever suffered from depression. A nerve in your brain is the “happy nerve”? What a way to dumb down a complex process about a serious, debilitating disorder.
But what I really want to know is where is the balance to this story? Where, for instance, is the “news” value? Well, for one, the author could have noted that on May 7, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) confirmed its preliminary determination not to cover VNS as a treatment for treatment-resistant depression (an ideal application for the device) for Medicare recipients. That’s a pretty big deal, and a pretty newsworthy item. But no mention of it in this article.
And no mention of the cost of the VNS treatment. For the record, the device and surgery to implant it can run anywhere from $27,000 – $42,000. Not exactly an affordable treatment option that’s widely available to most people.
C’mon Wired, write something better than a press release!