A Brain Implant That Treats Severe Eating DisordersS

It was starting to get so bad for Ontario's Kim Rollins that her mother started to make plans for the funeral. Conventional therapies weren't helping to alleviate her severe anorexia, so Rollins decided to volunteer for a cutting-edge treatment: deep-brain stimulation. Now, with her "brain pacemaker," she has been effectively treated for the condition. The breakthrough suggests that DBS could be used to help similar patients.

The therapy was conducted by a team of neurosurgeons and psychiatrists from Toronto who worked with six women. Three have gained weight, and all them have reported improvements in mood nine months after the surgery.

The Globe and Mail reports:

A Brain Implant That Treats Severe Eating DisordersS

"I am now 120 pounds – which is a healthy body weight for a person my age and height of five feet, 21/2 inches," she said. Before the brain surgery, she weighed 90 pounds. And perhaps even more significant, she is no longer troubled by the same degree of anxiety, depression and obsessive behaviour that caused her to put her own life in jeopardy with excessive dieting.

Indeed, the most interesting thing about this therapy is that it isn't targeting the anorexia specifically, but rather the mood disorders associated with it.

The G&M continues:

"What we find particularly exciting about the study is that the treatment was associated with a very significant improvement in their mood and a reduction in their obsessional symptoms. And we think that is the key if we are going to have an enduring effect on this illness," said one of the researchers, Dr. Andres Lozano, a neurosurgeon at the Krembil Neuroscience Centre of Toronto Western Hospital and a professor at the University of Toronto.

The treatment, though, will require patients to live with an electrode permanently lodged in their brains. The probe is connected through wires under the skin (beneath the scalp, neck and upper chest) to a replaceable battery unit implanted beneath the collarbone. The device works something like a cardiac pacemaker, sending a steady current of electricity to a specific region deep in the brain.

The treatment works by virtue of the fact that the brain is like a complex electrical circuit. Neurological disorders can result when these electrical impulses are not working properly. When a current is applied to the right spot, surgeons can compensate for the part of the brain exhibiting problems.

DBS has also been used to treat Parkinson's disease and major depression.

Read the entire study at The Lancet medical journal.

Images: Top via Libra DBS; inset via brainstim.psy.utexas.edu.