Remarkable Results: UCSF Case Study of Personalized Electro-Stimulation of Select Brain Regions for Treatment of Severe Depression Suggests That “Even the Most Severe Depression Is a Brain-Circuit Disease” That Can Be Nudged Back into a Healthy State

Targeted neuromodulation tailored to individual patients' distinctive symptoms is an increasingly common way of correcting misfiring brain circuits in people with epilepsy or Parkinson's disease. Now, scientists at the University of California (UC) San Francisco's (UCSF’s) Dolby Family Center for Mood Disorders have demonstrated a novel personalized neuromodulation approach that--at least in one patient--was able to provide relief from symptoms of severe, treatment-resistant depression within minutes. The approach is being developed specifically as a potential treatment for the significant fraction of people with debilitating depression who do not respond to existing therapies and are at high risk of suicide. "The brain, like the heart, is an electrical organ, and there is a growing acceptance in the field that the faulty brain networks that cause depression--just like epilepsy or Parkinson's disease--could be shifted into a healthier state by targeted stimulation," said Katherine Scangos (photo), MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Co-Director of the TMS & Neuromodulation Program at UCSF, and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Clinical Psychiatry at UCSF’s Dolby Center for Mood Disorders, and the lead and corresponding author of the new study. "Prior attempts to develop neuromodulation for depression have always applied stimulation in the same site in all patients, and on a regular schedule that fails to specifically target the pathological brain state. We know depression affects different people in very different ways, but the idea of mapping out individualized sites for neuromodulation that match a patient's particular symptoms had not been well explored." In a case study published online on January 18, 2021 in Nature Medicine, Dr.
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