Photo: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay
A woman who had exhausted all other options for treating her depression claims that having a matchbox-sized implanted into her skull has made her life infinitely better.
For most people, having holes drilled into your skull and electrical wires connected directly to your brain sounds terrifying, but for Sarah, a 36-year-old woman who had been battling depression for years, it was a desperate attempt to return to a normal life. She had been suffering from severe depression for years, and all other treatments, including antidepressants and electroconvulsive therapy, had failed. Anything was preferable to the darkness she had been living in, and getting a brain implant proved that.
“I had exhausted all possible treatment options,” Sarah told the BBC. “My daily life had become so restricted. I felt tortured each day. I barely moved or did anything. When I was in the depths of depression all I saw is what was ugly.”
Everything changed, however, when the implant was activated for the first time. It all began with a day-long surgery that involved drilling holes in her skull and connecting electrical wires directly to her brain. The battery and the pulse generator were tucked into the bone, right under her scalp.
“We found one location, which is an area called the ventral striatum, where stimulation consistently eliminated her feelings of depression,” researcher Dr. Katherine Scangos said. “And we also found a brain activity area in the amygdala that could predict when her symptoms were most severe.”
Sarah’s implant is technically always on, but it constantly monitors her brain activity and only sends an electrical impulse when it detects a need. The woman claims she can’t feel the impulse, but she can tell it happened within 15 minutes because it makes her feel more alert, energetic, and positive.
“When I first turned on the implant, my life took an immediate upward turn,” Sarah claims. “My life had returned to normal. Suicidal thoughts vanished after a few weeks. The device has kept my depression at bay, allowing me to rediscover my best self and re-create a life worth living.”
Sarah is the first person to receive this type of brain implant, and while her case is considered a success, it does not demonstrate efficacy. Doctors are now seeking new volunteers for similar procedures in the hopes of discovering a new treatment for depression.
“Although this kind of highly invasive surgical procedure would only ever be used in the most severe patients with intractable symptoms, it is an exciting step forward due to the bespoke nature of the stimulation,” Prof. Jonathan Roiser, a neuroscience expert at University College London, said.