Customized Brain: A New Cure For Depression

The custom brain implant helps combat depression symptoms through the tiny jolts being sent to the amygdala.

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By Sophia Li

In our school, heavy academic pressure is placed upon students, and the constant stress can make one feel as if they’re not doing well enough and may harm one’s health. It is not uncommon for this to eventually develop into depression, a serious mental illness that affects a variety of people. Depending on the person, some common symptoms of depression include feelings of sadness, lack of energy, and loss of interest, but severe symptoms, such as outbursts of anger and suicidal thoughts, occur for a large number of people. Though depression may seem like a dark tunnel with no light at the end, new scientific research may provide hope for people who struggle with this debilitating illness.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of California may have cracked the code: a personalized brain implant. An experimental device was planted into Sarah (last name unknown), a 36-year-old woman who faced serious depression for numerous years. The goal was for the device to improve her constant moodiness, which would allow her to experience the beauty of our world again. Researchers temporarily placed thin wire electrodes into her brain to observe brain activity related to her symptoms. In Sarah’s amygdala, a part of the brain associated with emotions, there appeared to be a fast gamma wave that caused her symptoms. Whenever these gamma signals were high in her brain, scientists programmed the device to apply tiny jolts of electrical current to the ventral capsule or ventral striatum, a region of the brain that is associated with positive emotions, like happiness. When the jolts were applied, Sarah laughed and said, “It was the first time I had spontaneously laughed and smiled where it wasn’t faked or forced in five years.”

A customized brain device that's guaranteed to discreetly lift your moods in the blink of an eye seems too good to be true. Sarah is doing well, and a research paper describes how her condition has improved since the technology worked its magic in her head. Though it is unclear how long this euphoria will last, Sarah has been going strong for a year now. However, in retrospect, there are many more drawbacks than what meets the eye. Sarah has received positive results from this treatment, but the customized device might only be working for her. The device was custom-made according to Sarah’s brain functions, so everyone must go through the complex process of acquiring their own brain implant device. The process used by the researchers required a lot of advanced imaging and machine learning technology. Additionally, the treatment’s high price of $35,000 makes it unlikely for it to become a mainstream treatment for depression. Along with the high cost comes a variety of possible complications, including blood clots, brain swelling, and brain infections.

Though this treatment has a long way to go before it's completely perfect, the results of this successful procedure have added to the ways scientists may detect and change harmful brain activity. Brain stimulation can successfully reduce the symptoms of depression, which provides hope for the future for treating mental illnesses. Hopefully, this research provides a glimmer of inspiration for those fighting their own battles and, perhaps one day, this technology will be able to benefit the lives of all people.