Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Thoughts improve electrical brain stimulation

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a technique that has already shown efficacy in a number of diseases, notably parkinson's disease. In addition, it is found to be useful to improve the memory, though this has not yet been tested on human patients. It works by sticking electrodes into the brain and electrically stimulating brain cells, called neurons. In an effort of optimization, scientists have shown that the process of thinking in addition to DBS is found to increase the efficiency of the therapy. Parkinson's patients who were instructed to think about movement, which is problematic in this particular disease, showed a 37 percent decrease in typical symptoms, such as rigidity and tremors after two months. Which is not bad, given the fact that it is all about thought.
X-ray of DBS given to a patient.
It was, however, necessary to give patients feedback about how their thoughts affected activity of certain brain areas. To achieve this, participants were put in an fMRI scanner which shows pictures of the electrical activity in the brain. Without this form of feedback, the thought therapy did not work. It therefore seems necessary that patients get confirmation that their thoughts have an effect on their brain activity, possibly to let them believe in it. This would be somewhat like the placebo effect, and it makes the treatment a bit more complicated to perform.

The scientists, working at Cardiff University in the UK, think that the increased efficacy of DBS by thinking about movement is caused by extra stimulation of the affected brain areas in parkinson's. Patients with this disease have trouble coordinating their movement, and it is known that stimulation of the brain by thinking can reduce the speed of degeneration. An example of that is memory training to prevent or slow down alzheimer's disease.

Especially young people could benefit from the combination therapy of thought and electrical stimulation. That is because young people with parkinson's are frequently treated without the use of drugs, because of the possible side-effects in the long-term. Thought therapy seems an excellent non-pharmaceutical alternative to improve symptoms in this patient group.

It would be interesting to find out which other diseases we can treat by thinking. It's definitely worth a thought.

No comments:

Post a Comment