Brain transplant treats obsessive-compulsive disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder took control of Amber Pearson's life after she would wash her hands repeatedly until they bled, or check multiple times to see if the windows were closed, or be alone for fear of contracting any infection. Used to eat food… These behaviors became normal thanks to “brain implants”, which is considered a revolution in the treatment of this psychological disorder.

Pearson, 34, is the first person to be fitted with a tiny device, similar in size to a small bar, placed in the back of her brain, which has helped reduce obsessive-compulsive disorders and epileptic seizures, a report from the French news agency said. Have given. Was suffering from. This device represents a promising scientific advancement that has fundamentally changed patient lives.

“My daily life has become better and I've become more present in it, which is amazing,” says Pearson, who lives in the western state of Oregon in the United States. She further added that “before this, I was constantly stuck in my own mind.” And busy with my passion.”

Severe obsessive-compulsive disorder can cost Pearson “eight or nine hours” of her time a day, causing her to become socially isolated. Before sleeping, she would make sure doors and windows were closed, gas lines were not running, and power was disconnected from appliances.

Afraid of contracting any infection, she bathed whenever she cared for her cat, and washed her hands so thoroughly that her joints became dry and bleeding, and she often went to eat with him. She preferred to eat alone rather than with family members or friends.

After the transplant, her obsessive-compulsive disorder took up only 30 minutes of her day.

electrical pulse stimulation

The mission of the implant, which is 32 mm in diameter, is to send an electrical pulse to restore normal performance when it detects abnormal responses in the patient's brain. This technique, called “deep brain stimulation,” has been used to treat epilepsy for more than 30 years.

But its role in reducing obsessive-compulsive disorders was still poorly understood and limited to experimental research, until doctors at Oregon Health & Science University performed innovative surgery on Pearson in 2019.

Pearson implanted at the same time “a device for obsessive-compulsive disorder and epilepsy, which is the only device in the world that treats these two diseases”, according to neurosurgeon Ahmed Raslan, who still reports on his patient's outcomes. Is surprised by. It should be noted that Pearson was the one who suggested the idea to the medical team.

Despite having a portion of her brain removed due to permanent epilepsy, Pearson still suffers from seizures so intense that one of them caused a heart attack, leading doctors to implant her with an implant to fight this resistant disease. Wanted. She told them: “Since you are going to enter my brain to implant electrodes, and since I also suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder… can you implant an electrode that will help me recover from this psychological disorder? will help?”

“Fortunately, we took this proposal seriously,” says Raslan. To design the device, doctors monitored his brain activity by giving him, for example, seafood, a type of food that causes him stress. This allowed them to identify “electrical signals” associated with OCD.

Photos by Neuralink
Neuralink announces it has succeeded in implanting the first brain chip in a patient (Al Jazeera)

Transplants.. How do they create hope?

Raslan says the implant is “programmed to produce stimulation only when it detects this signal.” While one program treats epilepsy, the other treats obsessive-compulsive disorders.

Pearson waited eight months before noticing the first changes in his behavior. She says: “I'm happy again and excited to go out and live a normal life and be with my friends and family who I've been away from for years.”

According to Raslan, the procedure received praise in a scientific journal and a study is currently being conducted at the University of Pennsylvania to find out how this technique can be applied to other patients. This operation represents a source of hope in the United States, where obsessive-compulsive disorders affect approximately two and a half million people.

Brain implants in general are getting more attention, as Neuralink, co-founded by Elon Musk, announced on Monday that it has succeeded in implanting the first brain chip in a patient.

The startup indicates its desire to use this chip to allow humans to communicate with computers, but it also seeks to help paralyzed people walk again and blind people to regain their vision.

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