Brain implants for treating depression hailed as a “big step forward” in mental health care by UAE psychiatrists.
Surgeons are hopeful that implants might offer an alternative to long-term addiction to antidepressants, although research into the effectiveness of deep brain stimulation at the University of California, San Francisco is still in its infancy.
Although semi-controlled in UAE, pharmacies can provide up to 30 days of antidepressants at a time, and patients must take the tablets daily for them to be effective.
Successful clinical trials of a surgical implant in a woman with drug-resistant depression give hope that an alternative to drugs will soon be available.
California doctors successfully treated a patient with severe depression by tapping into the specific brain circuitry involved in depressive neural patterns.
These markers were reset using a pacemaker-like device that corrects irregular heartbeats.
Neurologists said her symptoms were relieved almost instantly, unlike the usual 4 to 8 weeks it would typically take with conventional treatment, and lasted for 15 months.
It comes as people and doctors celebrate World Mental Health Day on Sunday.
Dr Waleed Ahmed, psychiatrist at the Priory Wellbeing Center in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, said the breakthrough was significant.
“It’s very important work, but it’s only the beginning, and this area needs more research,” he said.
“Neuromodulation is an emerging and promising treatment area for some psychiatric disorders and its effectiveness depends on the techniques used and the type of disorder being treated.”
Sophisticated electric shock treatment
The device is similar to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), a procedure performed under general anesthesia in which small electrical currents are passed through the brain, intentionally triggering a brief seizure.
The therapy causes changes in brain chemistry that can quickly reverse symptoms of certain mental health problems.
The treatment drew criticism in early interventions when large doses of electricity were given without anesthesia, leading to serious side effects including memory loss and bone fractures.
Because ECT is not an exact treatment, other irrelevant parts of the brain have occasionally been affected, increasing the risks.
“This new treatment appears to be more precise, patient-specific and tailored to the individual’s needs [than ECT]”said Dr Ahmed.
“Clearly, advancements in technology will improve the success rates of these new treatments and this work by UCSF is a big step forward. “
Rechargeable battery-powered devices can last up to nine years before needing to be replaced.
Although the United States Food and Drug Administration has approved deep brain stimulation to treat movement and neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy, more research is needed before it is approved for use. wider use in cases of depression.
Earlier this year, four Emirati patients with Parkinson’s disease underwent DBS procedures at the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.
The procedure typically costs between $ 30,000 and $ 50,000 and is often covered by health insurance.
Suitable candidates for DBS should be evaluated by a team of specialists, including a neurosurgeon, neurologist, and psychiatrist.
A mental health epidemic?
In 2020, the global antidepressant market was valued at approximately $ 26.25 billion.
Iceland, Portugal, Canada, Australia and the UK were the heaviest users of antidepressants in 2019, according to a study released by data analysts Statista.
Long-term use can be expensive, and reported side effects of the drug include anxiety, nausea, gastrointestinal issues, dizziness, and insomnia.
A recent study from the University of Sharjah before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic looked at the prevalence of mental health disorders in the United Arab Emirates.
Of the 700 participants, he found that 57.2 percent suffered from at least one complaint, with anxiety (56.4 percent) and depression (31.5 percent) being the most common.
It was found that women were more likely to report a mental health problem than men, with 66.2 percent reporting improvement after seeing a qualified specialist.
Carolyn Yaffe, clinical psychologist at Medcare Camali mental health clinic in Dubai, said the pandemic has created an uncertain future for many, often exacerbating existing mental health issues.
“During this time of stress and worry, people may not know what to do or how to deal with their experiences and feelings,” she said.
“This new way of life often leads to increased stress, anxiety, depression and difficulty regulating emotions.
“In these cases, people should seek help from a mental health professional.”
Separately, Seha of Abu Dhabi, the emirate’s health care regulatory body, has introduced Esketamine, a nasal spray to treat severe depression in adults who have tried other treatments without success.
Esketamine targets new receptors in the brain than those traditionally treated with antidepressant drugs, Seha said.
Update: October 10, 2021, 5:14 am