NARSAD Grants Fund Breakthrough Bipolar & Depression Treatment

Scientific Council Member Helen Mayberg, MD of Emory University
Helen Mayberg, M.D.

New study shows breakthrough results for treatment of bipolar disorder and unipolar depression (major depressive disorder) with deep brain stimulation (DBS). The findings show long term abatement of symptoms in treatment-resistant patients. DBS is a groundbreaking option for these severely depressed patients who have failed to respond — or failed to maintain a response — to other forms of treatment and therapy.

Scientific Council Member Helen Mayberg, MD and colleagues, including NARSAD Young Investigator Grantee Paul E. Holtzheimer, MD led the pioneering work.  The new studies included patients with bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder (nearly all prior studies of DBS in depression have involved patients with major depressive disorder only). The treatment-resistant patients were implanted with two thin wires on each side of the brain and into the neck – similar to a pacemaker – and were delivered pulses to the parts of the brain that control mood. All but one of twelve patients who reached the two-year point in the study had completely shed their depression or had only mild symptoms. Dr. Mayberg states: “We were particularly happy to see that bipolar patients responded as well as unipolar patients [with major depressive disorder] because bipolar disorder is notoriously hard to treat.”
Dr. Mayberg has a prolific and valued history with the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. Her NARSAD Grant-funded brain studies date back 20 years, when she first pioneered functional imaging studies for depression in 1991. In 2002, she led breakthrough NARSAD-funded research when she used DBS in the treatment of depression to target an area in the brain she earlier found to be an important locus of depression pathology.  Her most recent studies with DBS prove her hypothesis that stimulation of deep areas in the brain associated with severe depression can alleviate the symptoms.
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