The approach may serve as an optional therapy for patients suffering from severe depression.
Deep brain stimulation produced long-lasting relief for patients with severe depression, according to a study published inBrain Stimulation. The approach may one day serve as a treatment option for critically ill patients.
Included in the study were 8 patients who had suffered continuously for 3 to 11 years from severe depression that was unresponsive to antidepressants, psychotherapy, or treatments such as electroconvulsive therapy.
The physicians implanted razor-thin electrodes into the patients to stimulate the brain region involved in the perception of pleasure, and was thus important for motivation and quality of life. Each month, the physicians evaluated the therapy’s efficacy using the established Montgomery-Asberg Rating Scale (MARDS).
The results of the study showed that the patients’ average MARDS score dropped from 30 points to 12 points in the first month. By the end of the study the score had dropped slightly more. Overall, 4 patients achieved a MARDS score of less than 10 points, the threshold for diagnosis of depression.
“Most of the patients respond to the therapy. The remarkable thing is that the effect is also lasting. Other forms of therapy often lose their effectiveness in the course of time,” said principal investigator Dr. Thomas Schläpfer. “This makes deep brain stimulation a highly promising approach for people with previously non-treatable depression.”
Although some patients suffered briefly from blurred or double vision, the adverse effects (AEs) were quickly resolved.
“We managed to alleviate the side effects by reducing the intensity of the stimulation, without diminishing the antidepressant effect of the therapy,” said investigator Dr Volker A. Coenen.
There were no reports of personality changes, disorders, or other AEs in any of the study participants.
A 5-year study comprising 50 patients is currently underway at the University of Freiburg Medical Center. If the study confirms the safety and efficacy of the therapy, Dr Coenen sees the possibility of registering the therapy in Europe.
“In a few years, deep brain stimulation of this kind could be an effective treatment option for patients with severe depression,” Dr Coenen said.