Scientists Develop First-Ever Brain Implant to Treat Depression

Depression affects more than 264 million people worldwide. That’s why medical researchers have sought out ways to treat it more effectively. Most recently, scientists at Italian research institute, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, have developed a first-of-its-kind brain implant that’s designed to treat depression.

What Is Depression?

Not everyone experiences depression the same way, but they’re all characterized by intense feelings of sadness, guilt, emptiness, or hopelessness. Common symptoms of depression can include a lack of interest in activities once enjoyed, changes in appetite, sleep struggles, difficulty focusing, and changes in energy levels. Untreated depression can have long-lasting consequences and treatment options, such as medications and psychotherapy, can be only partially successful for some.

What Is the Brain Implant?

The brain implant consists of an array of tiny electrodes, about the size of a baby aspirin tablet, and is surgically implanted into an area of the brain called the Lateral Habenula. It works by blocking the transmission of electrical signals that cause negative emotions and can be precisely adjusted in order to regulate the activity of certain areas of the brain.

How Does the Implant Work?

The implant works by stimulating different parts of the brain in order to modulate its activity. Electrical signals are delivered to the Habenula to block those electrical signals which are known to trigger negative emotions. This causes a decrease in the intensity of the signal and an increase in the magnitude of the signal. This ultimately results in a mood stabilization.

What Makes the Implant Unique?

This method is unlike conventional depression treatment as it manipulates a different part of the brain other than the prefrontal cortex which is typically targeted in depression medications and psychotherapy. The method is also less invasive, as it does not involve the use of drugs or other forms of therapy.

What Are the Benefits of the Brain Implant?

The implant has the potential of providing relief from depression in a shorter amount of time. Because the implant directly affects the brain, it may also provide relief to those who are resistant to treatment using drugs or therapy. Additionally, it is less invasive than other treatment options and enables more accurate targeting of specific areas of the brain.

What Are the Risks Involved?

The brain implant is an experimental treatment and, therefore, there is a certain amount of risk associated with it. The most common risks include infection, seizures, and stimulation of the wrong region of the brain, which can have negative impacts on the person’s mood.

How Long Does the Brain Implant Last?

The implant has been designed to last for at least a few years, so it is relatively long-lasting. However, its efficacy can be reduced over time as the electrodes can corrode and the effectiveness of the electrical stimulation may diminish.

The development of the first-ever brain implant for treating depression is a remarkable achievement. It has the potential to bring much-needed relief to those struggling with depression who haven’t experienced success from other treatments. If the implant proves to be successful over the long-term, it could revolutionize how depression is treated, potentially providing a more effective way of managing the condition.