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Experimental brain implants may help patients with severe anorexia

Neurological implants are being tested on patients whose conditions have not responded to other treatment.

Image: Monkey Business Images via Shutterstock

BRAIN IMPLANTS may be used as a last-gasp effort to treat patients with severe anorexia who have not responded to earlier treatment, under new experimental research.

The technique, known as ‘Deep Brain Stimulation’ (DBS), sees doctors plant a pacemaker-style device in the ‘white matter’ at the base of the brain – and has resulted in successful weight gain in the handful of cases in which it has already been trialled.

Implants have been trialled on six patients, originally with the intention of trying to identify whether the procedure was safe for patients – but in five of the six cases, patients had seen slow and steady increases in their weight after three months.

In three cases, the weight had remained after nine months – the longest period of sustained weight gain that any of the three patients had experienced since their illness first manifested.

The treatment, which is outlined in the latest issue of The Lancet, is seen as particularly encouraging because it does appears to have effects beyond those of a placebo or simply increasing a feeling of hunger.

This is because patients who underwent the procedure continued to lose weight immediately afterwards, in line with the effects when similar techniques are used to treat other conditions.

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DBS has previously been used to treat patients suffering from chronic pain, as well as from conditions like Parkinson’s Disease. Applications to treat depression and epilepsy are also currently being researched.

The study was undetaken by the Krembil Neuroscience Centre and University Health Network in Canada, who undertook the procedure on six patients – all of them female – aged between 24 and 57, and who had struggled with anorexia for between four and 37 years.

Read: TD calls for debate on blocking eating disorder websites

About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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