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Researchers study ‘brain pacemakers’ as depression therapy

CALGARY- A Calgary research team is recruiting patients with depression for a study on deep brain stimulation.

“At least 10 per cent of the population suffers from some form of depression, and in that 10 per cent at least one per cent might not improve with any kind of treatment that is available,” explains Dr. Raj Ramasubbu, a psychiatrist with the University of Calgary’s faculty of medicine.

For those patients, electroconvulsive therapy (formerly known as electroshock treatment) may help, but the side effects of this treatment are  severe and often include memory loss. Deep brain stimulation also uses electricity but does not appear to cause the same kinds of memory problems.

“We’re targeting a very small area of the brain, we’re not giving electricity to the whole brain,” says Dr. Zelma Kiss, a neurosurgeon with the University of Calgary’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute.

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Deep brain stimulation is an invasive procedure that requires surgery. Surgeons implant an electrode, roughly the size of a piece of spaghetti down two small centimeter-size incisions cut into the front of the skull just behind the hair line. The electrodes are attached to a pacemaker implanted under the skin above the patient’s chest.

DBS is currently an approved therapy for parkinson’s disease, but is still being studied as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy and depression.

“Published evidence so far suggests that about 50 to 60 per cent of patients with treatment resistant depression will respond to this type of treatment,” says Kiss. “We’re trying to understand whether there are markers we can pick up with a blood test or MRI to be able to predict who might respond well to this therapy.”

Researchers are looking to recruit 25 patients with depression, who have not responded to at least four types of treatment trials. Patients who suffer from other mental illnesses or chronic health problems may not be eligible. For more information, contact the study co-ordinator at 403-210-6905