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Nerve Stimulator Appears Effective in Treatment-Resistant Depression

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If the results are proven in larger studies (the FDA has given approval to enroll another 30 patients in the ongoing trial), Rush says that the stimulator may prove a good alternative to ECT. He says that he and his fellow researchers did some testing that indicates the vagus nerve device may actually improve some mental functioning.

One of the main criticisms of ECT is that it sometimes leaves patients with sluggish responses and impaired memory. Rush says, however, that the improvement may be related to the improvement in depression.

That explanation makes sense to Thompson, who says that although ECT is associated with some changes in mental functioning around the time of the treatments, "We actually see improvements when we retest after treatment if there has been an improvement in the depression." He says that the vagus nerve stimulator may work the same way.

Using the treatment for depression is experimental, but Rush estimates that if it becomes an approved therapy the cost will be "about $10,000 to $12,000 for the device and about $4,000 to $5,000 for the surgery." In this study, all surgeries were "done by neurosurgeons who have implanted [the vagus nerve stimulator] for epilepsy," Rush says.

The study was partially funded by Cyberonics of Houston, manufacturer of the stimulator.

Vital Information:

  • Depression affects 18 million Americans, and about 1 million of those do not respond to conventional treatment.
  • An implanted device that stimulates the vagus nerve has been shown to be effective in some of these treatment-resistant patients.
  • The vagus nerve stimulator, which is an approved epilepsy treatment, requires outpatient surgery that lasts about two hours.
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