Tuesday, April 18, 2006

New Device to Treat Depression

Billed as “a pacemaker for the brain”, a pocket watch sized device may be the newest cutting edge treatment for as many as 4 million adults whose severe depression is not relieved by psychotherapy, drugs, or even shock treatments. Since it’s FDA approval eight months ago, more than 550 Americans have had a vagus nerve stimulator (VNS) implanted in their chests to activate parts of their brain. The VNS is a battery operated generator that is attached to an electrode that is then implanted in the vagus nerve in the neck. The generator than emits regular pulses of electricity that is supposed to stimulate serotonin and other brain chemicals that are believed to regulate mood. But does this new device really work? Is VNS a lifesaving treatment for chronic depression or is it an unproven and potentially harmful treatment based on flimsy science, as critics contend? The only clinical trial of this device, which is approved to treat severe epilepsy, failed to demonstrate the effectiveness in relieving depression. Due to the lack of alternatives for the severely depressed, a top DDA official overruled unanimous opposition of 20 staff members and approved this device to treat adults who failed four other alternatives

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