A brain implant the size of a Band-Aid has cured a woman’s obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and epilepsy.
Amber Pearson, 34, of Albany, Oregon, had suffered from severe OCD since high school and spent eight hours a day checking that her doors and windows were locked and that her stove was off, along with a hand washing procedure that left them raw and bleeding. He also developed epilepsy when she was 20 years old.
The implant sits in the skull and has wires that are connected to the brain. When it detects brain patterns that signal the onset of a seizure or compulsive thoughts, the device sends electrical pulses to the regions, shutting down unwanted neural activity.
The treatment is believed to reset abnormal brain circuits, similar to how a pacemaker regulates the heart.
Oregon Health and Science University neurosurgeon Dr. Ahmed Raslan and patient Amber Pearson
DBS is not a new treatment and was first approved by the FDA to control tremors in people with Parkinson’s disease in 1997.
In 2019, Ms. Pearson underwent experimental brain surgery at Oregon Health and Science University.
OCD affects 2.5 million American adults. The term is overused in everyday life, but its clinical definition is when a person experiences uncontrollable, recurring thoughts, known as obsessions, and engages in repetitive behaviors, known as compulsions, or both.
It usually begins in late childhood or early adolescence. Experts aren’t sure what specifically causes OCD, but both genetic and environmental factors are thought to play a role.
OCD meant Ms Pearson struggled to live a normal life, as she was so afraid of food contamination that she could not eat alongside other people, not even her family.
When he was 20, after developing epilepsy, he had a particularly severe seizure that caused him to lose consciousness.
People with epilepsy are more likely to be affected by OCD, but experts aren’t entirely sure why this happens. It is thought that seizures can cause damage to the brain that can lead to changes in behavioral patterns, which could cause OCD.
Doctors then decided to treat her with deep brain stimulation (DBS) after she tried therapy and medications, which had no effect.
Deep brain stimulation is a procedure that involves implanting a device to send electrical pulses to the brain.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows the use of DBS for OCD as a last resort.
Reports indicate that more than 300 OCD patients had undergone surgery for DBS implantation as of 2021.
Mrs Pearson said cabling: ‘Every decision I made was based on my OCD. “It was always in the back of my mind.”
The research, published in the journal Neuron This month, he documented how a medical team used a single 1.2-inch-long electrode fitted to detect his unique brain signals to control both his epilepsy and OCD.
The device they used on Ms. Pearson is responsive, meaning it only delivers electric shocks when it detects irregular patterns in her brain that signal the onset of a seizure or compulsive thoughts.
Responsive deep brain stimulation has already been used to treat epilepsy, but Ms Pearson’s case is the first time it has been used for OCD, as well as to treat two conditions at the same time.
Pearon’s seizures were triggered in a part of the brain called the insula.
His neurosurgeon, Dr. Ahmed Raslan, targeted a small region of the insula, as well as the ventral striatum, which is located just above and behind the eyes.
The ventral striatum includes the nucleus accumbens, part of the brain linked to motivation, action, and compulsive impulses.
Dr Raslan said: “It was an area that could be targeted with the same electrode.”
The device is manufactured by a company called NeuroPace, based in California.
While other electrodes used for deep brain stimulation only send electrical pulses, NeuroPace’s collects brain signals and only emits electricity when it has been programmed to respond to a trigger.
Pearson often spent up to eight hours a day performing mandatory tasks such as washing his hands and checking that the stove was off. Now, he said it’s more like 30 minutes.
Pearson said: “Now I rarely worry about what happens at home while I’m away.” I notice fewer and fewer obsessions and compulsions.
“I’ve been able to form healthier relationships with the people in my life.”