In a clinical trial, a 36-year-old woman called Sarah received an experimental brain implant that successfully treated her severe depression. This implant is the world’s first brain implant that treats depression successfully. I think this is really cool because it’s a real-life example of a common cyberpunk vision where humans live with biomechanical implants (cyborgs).
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Want to read more about this? Here’s a link to The Guardian‘s news article.
How Does The Device Work?
It’s been a challenge to find out where depression takes place in the brain, and most likely because depression doesn’t just take place in one specific place. Depression is most likely a state which is the result of the activities of many different areas of the brain, similar to that of consciousness. If this is the case, how come this brain implant works?
The answer lies in using data of patterns in brain activity linked to depression and using machine learning to identify telltale patterns of activity in the amygdala region accompanying depressive states. The data was collected by recording a wide range of brain activity, combined with Sarah’s own reports of her moods.
Then, through trial and error, the researchers identified a brain area (the ventral striatum) where “a tiny dose of electricity appeared to have an immediate and profound impact” (The Guardian). This is significant because it strongly indicates that the brain activities underlying depression can be detected and that the relevant neural circuits can be stimulated back to a healthy state.
The device works by detecting patterns of brain activity linked to depression and automatically interrupting them using tiny pulses of electrical stimulation delivered deep inside the brain.
Cyborg = Human Bodies + Biomechanic Parts
From the dreams of a cybernetic future, many cyberpunk and sci-fi stories have included cyborgs. Cyborgs are beings with both organic and biomechanic body parts, such as brain implants or prosthetic limbs.
In futuristic visions, these sorts of sophisticated devices will be able to mediate, record, and simulate different parts of the human body. Perhaps even stimulate tissues to overcome current limitations, which will help humans gain abilities beyond our natural ones.
This world’s first brain implant that has successfully treated depression in Sarah is definitely a very real leap towards such futuristic visions.
The implant Sarah received costs $35,000. So, similar to most fantasy stories of cyborgs, perhaps only the rich and privileged will be able to afford to modify their bodies. Or perhaps, we will see a more utopian future where more socialistic governments will provide state-financed subventions to implants for mental illnesses such as depression.