Brain Implant Treats Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Amber Pearson’s life used to be controlled by obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). She would wash her hands until they bled, check multiple times if the windows were closed, or eat alone fearing infection. Now, thanks to a groundbreaking brain implant, these behaviours are mere memories.

At 34, Amber became the first person to be fitted with a tiny device, similar in size to a small bandage, implanted in the back of her brain, drastically reducing her OCD and epilepsy seizures.

This device represents a promising scientific breakthrough, profoundly transforming the lives of people like Amber.

Ms. Pearson, who resides in Oregon said, “My daily life has improved, and now I feel present in it, which is amazing.”

She explained, “I used to be constantly trapped in my mind, preoccupied with my anxieties.”

In the past, OCD consumed up to “8 or 9 hours” of Pearson’s day, leading to social isolation. Every day she would check to make sure the doors and windows were closed before bedtime, gas connections were off, and electricity was disconnected from devices.

Fearful of infection, she bathed every time she touched her cat, washing her hands so thoroughly that her knuckles would dry and bleed. Often, she preferred eating alone, avoiding family or friends.

After the implantation, Pearson’s OCD now takes up only about 30 minutes of her day.

Electrical Pulse Stimulation

Measuring 32mm in diameter, this revolutionary implant detects abnormal brain responses and sends an electrical pulse to restore normal function. This technique, known as “deep brain stimulation,” has been used for over 30 years to treat epilepsy.

However, its role in reducing OCD was not well understood and was limited to experimental research until doctors from the Oregon Health & Science University performed this innovative surgery on Pearson in 2019.

Expressing his amazement at his patient’s results, neurosurgeon Ahmed Raslan said, “Pearson underwent surgery to implant a device for OCD and epilepsy, the only device in the world treating both conditions simultaneously”.

Despite having part of her brain removed due to persistent epilepsy, Pearson still suffered severe seizures, one of which caused a heart attack, prompting doctors to consider implanting a device to combat this persistent condition.

Moreover, Pearson herself proposed the idea to the medical team and asked them: “Since you’re entering my brain to put in an electrode for epilepsy, can you put in an electrode to help me overcome my OCD?”

Dr Raslan says, “Fortunately, we took this suggestion seriously.”

To design the device to detect her abnormal brain waves, doctors monitored her brain activity while giving her seafood, one of the foods that made her anxious and other similar procedures, which enabled them to identify “electrical markers” associated with OCD.

Implants & Hope

Raslan explains that the implant is programmed “to stimulate Amber’s brain only when it detects these signals.” While one programme treats epilepsy, the other addresses OCD.

Pearson first noticed the changes in her behaviour 8 months after the surgery and she expressed her happiness with the results saying: “I am happy again, excited to go out and live a normal life and be with my friends and family whom I’ve been cut off from for years.”

This procedure received praise in a scientific journal, and a study is currently underway at the University of Pennsylvania to determine how this technique can be applied to other patients, according to Raslan.

The procedure offers hope in the United States, where OCD affects around two and a half million people.

Brain implants are gaining increasing interest. Neuralink, a company co-founded by Elon Musk, announced a successful brain chip implantation for a patient.

The startup aims to use this chip to enable humans to communicate with computers and also aims to help paralyzed individuals walk again and blind individuals regain sight.

Al Jundi

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