Implant can scan, stimulate brain

Scientists may soon be able to improve treatment for conditions that involve brain disorders, with a new implantable device that can record brain activity and deliver electric current to the brain at the same time.

The device by Medtronic can automatically adjust its electrical output depending on the conditions it records in the brain, tech site Mashable reported.

Potentially, the treatment using the pacemaker-like device could be explored for conditions like epilepsy, severe depression and other brain disorders, Mashable added.

"Everything that is on the market today is a one-way stimulator. The devices don't record or respond to a patient," Mashable quoted Joseph Neimat, a neurosurgeon at Vanderbilt University Medical Center who specializes in deep brain stimulation implants, as saying.

"What would be better would be to have a system that could anticipate or read a patient's state and respond with an appropriate stimulus," he added.

Lothar Krinke, general manager of Medtronic's deep brain stimulation division, said the device's ultimate goal is to provide responsive therapy by detecting brain signals and tweaking its output.

At present, deep brain stimulation is being used for more than 100,000 patients with problems associated with Parkinson's and other movement disorders.

However, present devices need to be adjusted by a specialist to meet a patient's needs.

Treating more conditions

Mashable said the new information from simultaneous recording and stimulating may lead to a better understanding of brain disorders.

Ron Salomon, a psychiatrist at Vanderbilt University, cited depression, where patients may have deficits in different brain regions or circuits.

"Being able to objectively determine changes in neural activity in different patients may give us some tools for subdividing depression on a neurobiological basis rather than based on symptoms and signs observed from the outside," he said.

Also, such a two-way device can help doctors treat more conditions than at present.

Responsive devices "may not only improve the way we currently treat disease but open the door for a whole host of other diseases that can be treated," Neimat said.

Lab animal tests

Mashable said lab animal tests indicate the device can sense electrical activity in the brain tissue it is plugged into, but can adjust its output accordingly.

On the other hand, it noted other firms have developed smart stimulators for epilepsy patients.

Mashable cited NeuroPace's efforts for a brain implant that monitors the brain for an oncoming seizure, and delivers shocks to fend off the attack.

"This is the start of a new way of doing medicine. (N)ow we can consider a more sophisticated process where you look at what's going on in the brain and then stimulate accordingly," said Robert Fisher, a neurologist who heads the Stanford Epilepsy Center. — TJD, GMA News

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