Study: Experimental anorexia treatment with deep brain stimulation may provide lasting results

deep brain stimulation illustration

In what some are calling "a world 1st," researchers reported some success in treating severe anorexia patients via implanted electrodes that delivered electrical energy to the regions of the brain associated with emotion.

The study enrolled 6 patients to receive the experimental treatment, reporting that 3 of the 6 achieved weight gain and 4 of the 6 reported changes in mood, anxiety, control over their urges to binge and purge and other symptoms associated with anorexia.

"There is an urgent need for additional therapies to help those suffering from severe anorexia," researcher Dr. Blake Woodside said in prepared remarks. "Eating disorders have the highest death rate of any mental illness and more and more women are dying from anorexia."

"Any treatment that could potentially change the natural course of this illness is not just offering hope but saving the lives for those that suffer from the extreme form of this condition," Woodside added.

The patient involved in the study were considered at high risk of chronic illness or premature death as a result of the severity of their anorexia. They had an average age of 38 and had suffered from anorexia for an average of 18 years. Each patient had previously suffered medical complications as a result of the anorexia and all but 1 also had psychiatric conditions, such as major depressive disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The patients were implanted with electrodes that were placed in regions of the brain determine to be highly important in disorders such as depression. The electrodes were connected to an electrical pulse generator that was implanted below the right clavicle, "much like a heart pacemaker," the researchers reported.

"After a 9-month period following surgery, the team observed that 3 of the 6 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," according to the report. "Furthermore, 4 of the 6 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. As a result of these changes, 2 of these patients completed an inpatient eating disorders program for the 1st time in the course of their illness."

The findings may mark a shift in treatment for anorexia, as well as other mental disorders. Tech-based approaches to psychiatric issues are rare, although they do exist. Pennsylvania medical device maker Neuronetics in 2008 was the 1st to win FDA clearance to market a DBS-based depression therapy, namely its NeuroStar TMS non-invasive electromagnetic field treatment.

St. Jude Medical‘s (NYSE:STJ) is also examining deep brain stimulation as a platform for treating mental health issues such as depression. and Jerusalem-based Brainsway Ltd. (PINK:BRSYF) has had Israeli regulatory approval since October 2011 for its transcranial magnetic stimulation device to treat major depression, bipolar disorder and negative impairment in schizophrenia patients.

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