New Electrical Brain Stimulation Technique Shows Promise in Mice
Pulses of electricity delivered to the brain can help patients with Parkinson’s disease, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and possibly other conditions. But the available methods all have shortcomings: They either involve the risks of surgery, from implanting electrodes deep within the brain, or they stimulate from the skull’s surface, limiting the ability to target electricity to the right brain areas.
Now, a team of neuroscientists and engineers has devised a method that might achieve the best of both worlds: skipping the surgery while reaching deep brain areas. The research, published in the journal Cell and led by a prominent neurobiologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was conducted in mice, and many questions remain about its potential application to people. But experts say if the method proves effective and safe, it could help a range of neurological and psychiatric disorders more cheaply and safely than current approaches.
“They have this clever new way to deliver current to a spot of interest deep in the brain and do it without invading the brain,” said Dr. Helen Mayberg, a professor of psychiatry, neurology and radiology at Emory University, who was not involved in the study and who pioneered the still-experimental treatment of deep brain stimulation for depression. “If you didn’t have to actually open up somebody’s brain and put something in it, if it could do what we’re doing now just as well — sign me up.” Dr. Mayberg is a NS faculty member.