Women's health * Men's health * 50+ health * Mental wellbeing

Pioneering treatment helps woman conquer severe depression

Pioneering treatment helps woman conquer severe depression Targets brain circuits that regulate emotion

A grandmother who battled chronic depression for more than a decade has become the first person in the world to benefit from a new neurosurgical treatment.

Sheila Cook, from Torquay, Devon, suffered from such severe depression she had attempted suicide on more than one occasion.

After her depression stopped responding to conventional treatments, the 62-year-old was offered deep brain stimulation (DBS) at the Frenchay Hospital in Bristol as part of a clinical trial.

DBS consists of inserting thin wires into the brain that are connected to a pacemaker which delivers electricity. The treatment stimulates two different brain networks that are involved in depression, responsible for regulating and controlling emotion.

Although DBS gave Mrs Cook some temporary relief, the effect was not sustained. She then opted for further advanced neurosurgery known as an "anterior cingulotomy," an operation developed at the hospital which more accurately targets brain circuits that are important in regulating emotion and are thought to be overactive in a number of psychiatric disorders.

Mrs Cook described the effect the treatment has had on her life as "remarkable." She said: "Within a few weeks my life changed.

"I felt happy for the first time in years and began to take an interest in life again. I read books, did the housework, went for walks and, perhaps most importantly, got to know my family again. I cannot thank the clinicians and researchers who worked with me enough - they have given me my life back."

The pioneering treatment was carried out by Dr Andrea Malizia and Nikunj Patel.

“Our patients and their families suffer enormously and it is often thought that nothing else can be done. This lady responded temporarily to two of the complex treatments that we initiated in Bristol, but in the end remission has only been achieved by persisting and moving on to the next advanced treatment," Dr Malizia said.

Depression affects around 20 per cent of people at least once in their lifetime. About half the people get well within six months but about ten per cent of sufferers are still unwell after three years.

From then on the proportion of people who get well is much reduced with only about one in ten getting better every year.

Conventional treatments for depression include specific psychotherapies, different anti-depressant medicines and electroconvulsive therapy. If a medical treatment for depression does not work, the chances of the next treatment working are reduced by a third.

Although electroconvulsive therapy is the most effective short-term treatment, it does not work for everyone, its effect can be short lasting and it can have considerable side effects.

This article was published on Tue 25 January 2011

Image © Sebastian Kaulitzki - Fotolia.com

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