Can brain 'pacemaker' improve lives of head trauma patients?

September 23, 2016 by Don Rauf, Healthday Reporter

(HealthDay)—Deep brain stimulation—a technique that sends targeted electrical impulses to certain areas of the brain—may help people who've had a traumatic brain injury gain more independence, a new study suggests.

"Traumatic brain injury is a common condition with over 80,000 new cases of disability each year," said Dr. Ali Rezai. He's director of the Neurological Institute at Ohio State University in Columbus.

"There are few treatment options to help these individuals. The outcomes of this study demonstrate, however, improvements in disability, functional outcomes, independence, behavioral and emotional regulation, and self-control after two years with DBS [deep brain stimulation] treatment," Rezai said.

Traumatic brain injury can negatively affect memory and thinking, awareness, judgment, decision-making, problem solving and behavioral self-regulation, Rezai noted.

The DBS system is made up of three parts: the lead (or electrode); the extension; and the pulse generator (essentially the batteries), according to the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

The lead is surgically placed in the area of the brain to be stimulated. The extension is a wire that's implanted from the head, under the skin, through the neck and shoulders to connect the pulse generator to the lead. The pulse generator is implanted under the skin in the collarbone area, NINDS explained.

Rezai and his colleagues investigated the effects of deep brain stimulation in four patients. All had suffered severe brain damage in automobile crashes six to 21 years earlier.

The patients didn't have problems with being awake or alert, but they were significantly impaired when it came to performing daily life functions. All required daily supervision and couldn't be alone overnight. Three needed assistance with dressing, grooming and using the toilet.

When doctors implanted the DBS system in the patients, the lead was connected to stimulate the damaged areas of the brain with .

After two years of treatment, the researchers reported that three of the four participants demonstrated behavioral and emotional improvements, and substantial gains in functional independence.

The investigators saw improvements in alertness and engagement among all four participants. Two needed less assistance with the activities of daily living, and three of the four increased their involvement in activities outside of the home.

"Although this is a small study, we are cautiously optimistic in that scientists reported some encouraging results in helping patients with their behavioral and their emotional difficulties," said Dr. Eugene Lai. He's a professor of neurology and neuroscience at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas.

Lai added that has been a well-established procedure for treating Parkinson's disease, a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement.

Lai stressed that additional larger studies are needed to confirm these traumatic brain injury findings and to refine the treatment.

"With Parkinson's disease, we know the neurophysiology well," Lai explained. "It is a little more difficult to use it on patients with brain injury. Brain injury is not as well defined, and it is still not clear yet as to which targets [in the brain] work the best."

Although this study focused on just a few car accident victims, Rezai said the technique might be applied to those who have suffered head injuries related to sports or other causes.

He said the procedure had no major risks, complications or significant adverse events.

Lai added that infection is probably the most common side effect, although this side effect is "relatively rare."

Rezai said further exploration is needed to understand the exact mechanism of how the treatment works on brain injury. Also, this research was "open label," meaning both the scientists and the patients were aware of the treatment being administered. Rezai indicated that a future trial should be bigger and tested against a placebo (a sham form of therapy).

The study was published recently in the journal Neurosurgery.

Explore further: Craniectomy after head injury reduces risk of death from brain swelling

More information: To learn more about deep brain stimulation, visit the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Related Stories

Craniectomy after head injury reduces risk of death from brain swelling

September 8, 2016
Craniectomy – a surgical procedure in which part of the skull is removed to relieve brain swelling – significantly reduces the risk of death following traumatic brain injury, an international study led by the University ...

Deep brain stimulation tested for early Alzheimer's

July 28, 2016
(HealthDay)—Deep brain stimulation appears safe for people with early Alzheimer's disease—and might even slow down memory loss in some, a preliminary study suggests.

Biomarkers to assess degree of brain injury in postconcussion syndrome

September 19, 2016
A new study published online by JAMA Neurology included 16 professional Swedish hockey players and examined whether persistent symptoms after mild traumatic brain injury were associated with brain injury as evaluated by cerebrospinal ...

Anti-depressants may prevent onset of depression in patients with traumatic brain injuries

September 14, 2016
Contrary to popular belief, a new study suggests that anti-depressants may not be useful when depression has already had its onset in patients with traumatic brain injuries. In a paper published today in JAMA Psychiatry, ...

Ohio State implants first brain pacemaker to treat Alzheimer's

January 23, 2013
During a five-hour surgery last October at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, Kathy Sanford became the first Alzheimer's patient in the United States to have a pacemaker implanted in her brain.

Recommended for you

Study points to possible new therapy for hearing loss

October 15, 2018
Researchers have taken an important step toward what may become a new approach to restore hearing loss. In a new study, out today in the European Journal of Neuroscience, scientists have been able to regrow the sensory hair ...

Sugar, a 'sweet' tool to understand brain injuries

October 15, 2018
Australian researchers have developed ground-breaking new technology which could prove crucial in treating brain injuries and have multiple other applications, including testing the success of cancer therapies.

Scientists examine how neuropathic pain responds to Metformin

October 15, 2018
Scientists seeking an effective treatment for one type of chronic pain believe a ubiquitous, generic diabetes medication might solve both the discomfort and the mental deficits that go with the pain.

Abnormal vision in childhood can affect brain functions

October 13, 2018
A research team has discovered that abnormal vision in childhood can affect the development of higher-level brain areas responsible for things such as attention.

Study: Ketogenic diet appears to prevent cognitive decline in mice

October 12, 2018
We've all experienced a "gut feeling"—when we know deep down inside that something is true. That phenomenon and others (like "butterflies in the stomach") aptly describe what scientists have now demonstrated: that the gut ...

Two seemingly opposing forces in the brain actually cooperate to enhance memory formation

October 12, 2018
The brain allows organisms to learn and adapt to their surroundings. It does this by literally changing the connections, or synapses, between neurons, strengthening meaningful patterns of neural activity in order to store ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.