Beat Depression, With a Brain Implant

Depression helpThe US Military is launching a plan to treat mental illness by implanting electric devices in the brains of sufferers. The new plan is a $70 million project by The Defence Advanced Research Project Agency, or DARPA, designed to tackle the high number of troops coming home with PTSD, depression and anxiety.

The new treatment is still in its earliest phase. Scientists will study volunteers who currently rely on brain probes to treat things like epilepsy or Parkinson’s disease.  This will allow scientists to record and understand the circuitry of the brain. Many of the people in the initial study will also have depression or anxiety so the researchers are hoping to map out the brain circuitry related to these diseases as well.

 "If we are able to understand how the circuit has gone awry, that may give us some very critical clues as to how we may be able to reverse that," said Eddie Chang, a Neurosurgeon at UCSF.

With the better understanding of brain wiring, scientists hope to be able to build small and inexpensive electronic implants that can stimulate the faulty brain regions. The goal is to use something called plasticity along with these small implants to help the brain repair itself.

The idea is simple, when stimulated, brain circuits send messages. Broken circuits try to send messages but fail. Plasticity is the brains response to failed signals. It detects failed signals and works to change its wiring so those signals can be sent to the appropriate places.

This means with a few tiny implants, scientists could stimulate the brain to repair itself without long or expensive treatments.

If the project is a success, it could cut depression, anxiety and PTSD in military personnel drastically. By extension, this would reduce the number of suicides in the military and help save average citizens from footing a very large medical bill.

Scientists are also hoping this new treatment will benefit those with traumatic brain injuries and even chronic pain. 

To learn more about depression, check out the Life Works Knowledge Centre

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