Scientists Test Brain Implant for Anorexia

b2ap3_thumbnail_EDNOS.jpgMany people who are diagnosed with anorexia nervosa are led to believe that the mental illness has developed due to emotional problems that have manifested in an obsession with losing weight.

However, this outlook could all be about to change, potentially bringing about new and innovative methods of treatment, after scientists in Canada suggested the use of a brain implant to help those living with the condition.

Researchers have raised the question that deep stimulation in the brain could provide relief for individuals who are suffering from anorexia nervosa.


As part of the small study, which was published in the Lancet, three people were able to gain weight and experienced an improvement to their overall mood after undergoing the procedure.

Scientists from the Krembil Neuroscience Centre and University Health Network carried out the research with the primary aim of discovering whether the procedure is safe to utilise in individuals with severe cases of anorexia nervosa.

The deep brain stimulation method utilised by researchers, which involves implanting electrodes into the brain, has been used among patients with Parkinson's disease, obsessive compulsive disorder and Alzheimer's.

However, this represented the first time the device has been implanted into the brains of people with such severe forms of anorexia.

Now, researchers have called for larger trials to determine whether this type of therapy can be utilised as a last resort for people with difficult-to-treat forms of the eating disorder.

Six women between the ages of 24 and 57 took part in the study after finding the most conventional methods of treatment had failed to have the desired impact.

For this reason, scientists implanted electrodes in the area of the brain that influences how individuals regulate their mood and anxiety before switching on the device to deliver continuous electrical stimulation over the nine months of the study.

Commenting on the promising findings, Dr Nir Lipsman - lead author of the research - said this study was not carried out to determine if professionals could simply flip a switch to make people eat more.

He explained: "Anorexia nervosa has many layers and we need to address the root causes. In many people with the condition this is related to difficulties in regulating mood and anxiety.

"So we wanted to see if influencing this area of the brain could help people with the condition."

Following the nine-month period, three of the study participants said their quality of life had improved and they had put weight on, which they were able to stick maintain  - something they had been unable to do since developing the condition.

However, researchers noted that some of the women experienced unwanted side effects as a result of the treatment, including one case of a patient suffering a seizure two weeks after the device was implanted.

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