Toronto: For the first time, scientists claim to have treated patients with severe anorexia through electrodes implanted into their brains.
A team of researchers have shown that Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) in patients with chronic, severe and treatment-resistant Anorexia Nervosa (anorexia) helps some patients achieve and maintain improvements in body weight, mood and anxiety.
The study’s participants had an average age of 38, and a mean duration of illness of 18 years. In addition to the anorexia, all patients, except one, also suffered from psychiatric conditions such as major depressive disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Study participants were treated with Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS), a neurosurgical procedure that moderates the activity of dysfunctional brain circuits, according to the study published in the medical journal The Lancet.
Patients were awake when they underwent the procedure which implanted electrodes into a specific part of the brain involved with emotion, and found to be highly important in disorders such as depression.
During the procedure, each electrode contact was stimulated to look for patient response of changes in mood, anxiety or adverse effects. Once implanted, the electrodes were connected to an implanted pulse generator below the right clavicle, much like a heart pacemaker.
After a nine-month period following surgery, the team observed that three of the six patients had achieved weight gain which was defined as a body-mass index (BMI) significantly greater than ever experienced by the patients.
For these patients, this was the longest period of sustained weight gain since the onset of their illness.
Furthermore, four of the six patients also experienced simultaneous changes in mood, anxiety, control over emotional responses, urges to binge and purge and other symptoms related to anorexia, such as obsessions and compulsions.
“We are truly ushering in a new of era of understanding of the brain and the role it can play in certain neurological disorders,” said Andres Lozano, a neurosurgeon, at the Krembil Neuroscience Centre of Toronto Western Hospital.
“By pinpointing and correcting the precise circuits in the brain associated with the symptoms of some of these conditions, we are finding additional options to treat these illnesses,” said Lozano in a statement.
While the treatment is still considered experimental, it is believed to work by stimulating a specific area of the brain to reverse abnormalities linked to mood, anxiety, emotional control, obsessions and compulsions all of which are common in anorexia.