This Is What Happened To Sarah, A 36-Year-Old Woman Who’s Had Severe And Treatment-Resistant Depression Since She Was A Child
Depression can be a frighteningly relentless condition. Luckily, researchers around the world are constantly working on new treatment options, such as a newly designed brain implant for resistant depression. Altogether, up to a third of people with depression don’t respond or become resistant to treatment. No medication or therapy type seems to help. For those with such treatment-resistant depression, the future can look especially bleak. This is what happened to Sarah, a 36-year-old woman who’s had severe and treatment-resistant depression since she was a child. But a new proof-of-concept intervention has provided significant relief for Sarah, and could offer hope for many like her. The only catch? It requires a custom-designed ‘brain pacemaker’ for each person. “I was at the end of the line,” said Sarah, who asked to be identified by just her first name. “I was severely depressed. I could not see myself continuing if this was all I’d be able to do, if I could never move beyond this. It was not a life worth living.”
Luckily, Sarah was able to participate in a case study with a neuroscience research team at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF); the team’s project was to investigate deep brain stimulation methods that could potentially alleviate depression symptoms. Although the idea of having a small device implanted in our skulls might sound terrifying to some, deep brain stimulation has had a successful past in other brain disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy. But depression is significantly more complicated than either of those diseases. So far, results on deep brain stimulation for depression that targets particular regions of the brain – such as Brodmann area 25 – have been mixed, and mostly underwhelming. However, the UCSF team has made a significant change to this type of therapy.
Instead of applying the same brain stimulation treatment for everyone, the researchers manually tracked where Sarah’s depression was appearing in the brain. They identified a biomarker – in this case, a specific pattern of brainwaves – which has not been identified in major depressive disorder before, and used it to personalize the machine to only stimulate when and where the biomarker was expressed. The team put one electrode lead into the brain area where the biomarker was found, and a second where Sarah’s ‘depression circuit’ was. The best location for symptom relief took some time to figure out; once it was inserted, the first lead would detect the biomarker, and the second lead would produce a tiny amount of electricity for six seconds deep in the brain region.
This news was originally published at Science Alert