Electrodes in the brain: is it possible to treat obesity?

Anna suffered from depression most of my adult life and have tried different methods of treatment of your condition. She was taking antidepressants, had therapy and even agreed to electroconvulsive therapy – when passed through the brain electricity. Having tried all the patient with severe depression decided to implant electrodes into the brain. The results exceeded expectations.

Conventional treatments haven’t worked for long, and the depression soon returned. Another problem with which she was faced, – extra weight. She weighed 183 pounds. This led to limited mobility, which was exacerbated by the depression and created health problems.

Gastric bypass surgery has helped to lose a little weight, but not as much as would expect from such procedures, and did not help with depression. Psychiatrists offered an unexpected decision: to place the implant in the brain. This invasive method of treatment known as deep brain stimulation. It is used to facilitate the occurrence of Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

The treatment not only helped with depression, but also led to another interesting result – she lost more weight than she could before, dropping almost 3 kg per month. Thomas Munte, a neuroscientist at the University of lübeck in Germany who treated Anna says that the original goal was to cure her depression, and weight loss became secondary. In her case it was possible to kill two birds with one stone.

Successful weight loss Anna, which followed the treatment opened up new discussions about our relationship to this global epidemic. It also showed that in some cases the brain can be “reconfigured” to get rid of compulsive behaviours like addiction to anything.

Deep brain stimulation remains controversial, but not new treatment. She appeared in the 1930-ies, when neurosurgeons and the close was not so careful as they are now. The first this kind of treatment of epilepsy asked the neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield. He stimulated different parts of the brain with an electric probe, keeping patients awake during the process to understand the effect. The idea was that you can find the area of the brain that creates the problem, and destroy it.

In fact, scientists wanted simply “to fry part of the brain,” says Munte, create small ruts. Did the same for the treatment of problems with motor skills, dystonia, which causes shaking, or tremor. This technique is called “stereotactic surgery” and heralded a period of amazing experimentation.

At the same time, neuroscientist Antonio IGAS Moniz was removed small pieces of the brain of patients to free them from psychological illnesses, including depression. He removed part of the frontal lobe is an important region responsible for planning and personality. In some cases the treatment was successful and inevitable consequence in the form of personality changes was considered inevitable side effect. Remarkably, this work brought the scholar a Nobel prize in 1949. Removal of parts of the brain and the subsequent supervision of the results provided a good service for the study and practice of stimulation of the brain – has allowed neuroscientists to understand which areas of the brain can benefit from the use of electrodes.

When in a mass order began to prescribe antidepressants and other drugs protivorvotnye, the use of invasive and irreversible techniques began to decline, but the lessons scientists have learned from studies of brain areas under the electrodes that formed the basis of deep brain stimulation, which is used today.

In 2002, deep brain stimulation was approved for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. She was extremely efficient, and since it was cured more than 40,000 patients. Although it is used mostly for the treatment of tremor, there may be other goals – like severe depression, like Anna. To produce deep brain stimulation, scientists first drilled into the skull. Then placed electrodes on the brain itself. Patients often remain conscious, allowing scientists to test different areas during stimulation.

In Anne’s case the target area for stimulation was the nucleus accumbens [nucleus accumbens], part of the rewards center of the brain and important treatment area fun. This area is associated with depression because individuals with depression show a decreased interest in having fun. “It is possible to observe an emotional response from the patient when you stimulate this area,” explains Munte. His analysis was published in the journal Neurocase.

Treatment of obesity

Obesity in some people, may be associated with altered reward system in the brain, says Munte. Some fat people even show different brainwave patterns when they are shown images of food than thin people. The theory is that the area of the nucleus accumbens leads people with passion for the object of their desires, be it food, alcohol or drugs. Normally, the brain helps us to make rational decisions, not giving impulsive and require instant gratification hungry part of our brain to their own. But our system of remuneration could sometimes “to overcome our decency,” said neurosurgeon Peter žilina University of physical culture and sport in Gdansk, Poland. Dietetics is thriving, thanks to our nucleus accumbens.

The power of addiction reward system our brain has become obvious from the famous study in rats conducted in the 1950s. They were more likely to stimulate that brain area than even eating or drinking. If “disturb” or even inhibit (stop) the area of the brain electrical stimulation, “a motivational magnet is no more, and you are not bound to an object,” says Munte.

The fact that stimulation of the brain prevents this area remains a theory, but strengthened by animal research. For example, a study in rats showed that brain stimulation led to increase the production of inhibitory chemicals, GABA that is thrown when certain areas need to be restricted. Another study showed that individuals who control unwanted thoughts, have more of this substance.

We still don’t know the exact effect of stimulation of the brain, and this is one of the reasons why it remains controversial. “Sometimes in medicine are beginning to conduct clinical treatment before to find out exactly how they work,” says Munte. And reasonable cause of deep brain stimulation showed better results in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease than other methods.

Soon we could see a similar positive effect in the case of depression and even obesity, if it will follow other patients. Žilina, for example, saw the practice beyond treatment of a single Parkinson’s – in his office conducted more than 2,500 procedures since 1990-ies and sent for pathological aggression, Tourette’s syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

He also treated three people with obesity using deep brain stimulation as a last resort, when no other technique is not helped at all. As with Anna, obesity was treated as a compulsive disorder. Obesity is one of the patients was associated with childhood trauma that damaged the area in the brain of the girl responsible for the management of hunger and satiation.

Thoughts of the patient were completely fixed on the food. “Consequently, we hypothesized that bariatric surgery did not help,” explains žilina. Although the results on weight loss was not drastic, life changed. Brain stimulation allowed her to exist independently. Now she can learn and “think about something else besides food,” he says. “She stopped stealing food from the refrigerator parents.”

Addicted brain

With all this Munte emphasizes that we are still far from using brain stimulation as a widespread method of treatment of obesity, particularly as a last resort. This is an expensive invasive technique, so it is not suitable for most people with obesity.

It will fit part fat patients who show a passion towards food. Sonya Yoakum, a neuroscientist studying obesity at the Oregon Institute, does just that. It showed that food can provoke the processes of habituation in the brain that are similar to the neural symptoms of other pernicious habits, for example, alcoholism and drug addiction. Such people are at most risk because of their brains.

Yoakum showed that adolescents with brain regions that are “attracted” to food, risk to gain a lot of weight. “One possible explanation is that individuals have a increased response area of remuneration (which may be biologically justified), which are more vulnerable to overeating, gaining weight and absorb too many calories.” This offers an explanation for why traditional programs for weight loss rarely provide long-term effects.

Anna was the perfect patient to test deep brain stimulation for her depression and habits are. She was a class of people with obesity who have an unhealthy passion for food. It is difficult for them to control themselves when they are alone with food, as well as an alcoholic it’s hard to go past the drink.

Further, although these people show a large activation barrier of the brain in response to food, than people with healthy weight, when they finally get their reward (food), the activation decreases. People get what they wanted, rejoice, but the joy is and getting worse. Born simple connection: you need to eat more to get the same joy as before.

With food it is difficult – we need it to live. Fat people with an unhealthy addiction to food can’t control that eat inside, because they can’t completely abstain from food.

Although deep brain stimulation is definitely not will give the answer to the majority, in most cases, the experimental treatment can change lives.

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