A neuroscience research team at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), United States, managed to create the world’s first custom-designed brain implant to treat severe depression, giving hope to millions of people on whom treatments have been to no avail.
“The effectiveness of this therapy showed that not only did we identify the correct brain circuit and biomarker, but we were able to replicate it at an entirely different, later phase in the trial using the implanted device,” says UCSF psychiatrist Katherine Scangos. “This success in itself is an incredible advancement in our knowledge of the brain function that underlies mental illness.”
One patient, a 36-year-old woman, accepted to have a brain implant installed in her head. The team first identified a biomarker – in the patient’s case, it was a specific pattern of brainwaves – to personalize the implant. That way, the brain would be stimulated only when and where the biomarker was expressed. One electrode is connected to the part where the biomarker was found, and the other one where the patient’s ‘depression circuit’ was. The former would detect the biomarker, and the latter would produce a tiny bit of electricity six seconds deep in the brain region. Now the team is expanding its research to find more personalized depressive markers and to therefore help more patients.