Devicemakers explore pacemakers for psychiatric disease

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is already an established treatment for patients with intractable Parkinson's or other movement disorders. Now, devicemakers like Medtronic and St. Jude are exploring the use of the tiny pacemaker-like devices to treat psychiatric diseases like depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and Tourette's syndrome.

The two companies have begun major studies to see how effective the therapy is for mental disorders. One complication the firms will face is where to locate the device. A pacemaker-like is implanted near the collar bone with a wire running up the neck into the brain. But researchers are unsure where the jolt should be delivered, leading Medtronic and St. Jude to select different implant sites in the brain. Another complication is the system's batter, which must be replaced every two years in an outpatient surgery. The jolts can no longer be delivered if patients skip the surgery. Newer versions of the devices feature batteries that can be recharged every few days.

Unlike movement-disorder patients, DBS doesn't immediately deliver relief to patients suffering from mental disease. Patients are likely to improve gradually and still need supportive therapy to control their disorders. "Once your brain is returned to you, now you have to learn to use it," explains Dr. Helen Mayberg of Emory University. Still, devicemakers and psychiatrists are cautiously optimistic about DBS. About 60 patients with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder have received the therapy since 2000, with about three-quarters of them improved significantly, according to the Associated Press.

- here's the AP article