11 November 2021

Electrodes instead of tablets

Brain stimulation with the help of electrodes-implants – for the therapy of mental disorders

"First-hand science"


In some neurological conditions, when medications do not help, devices for deep stimulation of certain brain structures with electrical impulses are implanted into the brain of patients. And recently, with the help of this approach, a new way of treating severe mental illnesses has been developed.

Deep brain stimulation with implanted electrodes is now used for Parkinson's disease, epilepsy, chronic pain and some other severe neurological conditions when pharmacological treatment does not help. As for mental disorders, so far this surgical method has not been used, since it is not always clear exactly how the symptoms of mental disorders relate to the anatomical structures of the brain.

However, for example, it is known that with a number of mental illnesses, the work of the internal capsule, which is part of the striatum of the brain, is disrupted. This leads to a decrease in cognitive control, or, more simply, the ability to control one's thoughts and actions. An example is a patient suffering from depression who cannot get rid of unpleasant thoughts "stuck" in his head.

Now American researchers are supported by the Office of Advanced Research Projects of the US Department of Defense (DARPA) It has been shown that cognitive control can be improved by deep stimulation of the internal capsule in combination with the use of artificial intelligence elements. The study involved 12 people who underwent brain surgery for epilepsy, to whom electrodes were implanted in different parts of the brain to identify the localization of an epileptic focus.

Scientists have developed and applied an algorithm that tracks patients' ability to cognitive control directly by brain activity, as well as based on the analysis of patients' actions. And when the participants in the experiment began to cope worse with cognitive control tasks, artificial intelligence determined this and amplified stimulating impulses. This use of feedback doubled the effectiveness of stimulation compared to stimulation at random times.

In addition to epilepsy, some patients also suffered from severe anxiety, which decreased after such cognitive stimulation. This indicates the potential effectiveness of the method for the treatment of patients with severe and drug-resistant anxiety or depression.

Researchers believe that we are talking about a fundamentally new approach to the treatment of mental illness: instead of trying to suppress the symptoms of the disease, the patient is given a tool that allows them to be controlled. The technology, which is already being prepared for clinical trials, has every chance of being approved for use in practice. It will provide assistance to patients with mental illnesses who are not helped by standard therapies.

Article by Basu et al. Closed-loop enhancement and neural decoding of cognitive control in humans is published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.

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