MGH to design implantable deep-brain-stimulation device

Investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) today announced a research initiative designed to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and other neurological and psychiatric disorders. The goal of the project, made possible by a $30 million grant from DARPA, is to design and build an implantable deep-brain-stimulation (DBS) device that will monitor signals across multiple brain structures in real time. Based on the monitored activity, the device will deliver stimulation to key areas to alleviate symptoms related to neuropsychiatric disorders such as PTSD, severe depression, drug addiction, and TBI.

“Deep brain stimulation has been shown to be an effective treatment for a variety of brain diseases, especially those involving movement like Parkinson’s disease,” said Emad Eskandar, MD, director of functional neurosurgery at MGH and the project’s principal investigator, in a press release. “Our goal is to take DBS to the next level and create an implantable device to treat disorders like PTSD and TBI. Together with our partners we’re committed to developing this technology, which we hope will be a bold new step toward treating those suffering from these debilitating disorders.”

The initiative, called Transdiagnostic Restoration of Affective Networks by System Identification and Function Oriented Real-Modeling and Deep Brain Stimulation (TRANSFORM DBS), involves cross-hospital collaborations along with partners from MIT and Draper Labs. Carolyn Y. Johnson, writing in the Boston Globe, reported, “The Mass. General team will draw on the engineering expertise of Draper Laboratory in Cambridge to build a tiny, programmable device that can stimulate and sense brain activity in multiple areas. Collaborators at MIT will design computational tools to make sense of the data.”

She quoted Dr. Darin Dougherty, director of the Neurotherapeutics Division at Mass. General and a co-leader of the project, as saying, “What we can do is record neuronal activity in one area, and when it reaches a certain threshold that corresponds with symptoms, it [the implant] would stimulate an area to mitigate the symptoms. It’s not constantly turned on; it’s a responsive turn on, and it could change over time—a big leap forward.”

The MGH-based team will include the departments of Neurosurgery, Psychiatry, Neurology, Anesthesia, and Critical Care, and the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging.

“We’re strongly encouraged by the previous data connected with this approach,” said Eskandar. “Our hope is that this project will not only restore quality of life for those affected, both military and civilian, but dramatically change the way we approach the treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders.”

Johnson writing in the Globe reported that a second team, at the University of California San Francisco, will receive $26 million, also for work on brain implants. “California researchers,” she wrote, “will take a slightly different approach to the same problem, starting their work by taking detailed brain recordings from patients with Parkinson’s and epilepsy who are already having such measurements taken. They will use that information to try to understand signatures of brain activity and also plan to take advantage of the brain’s malleability—the fact that it can form new connections between brain cells—in an attempt to use the implants to alter and strengthen circuits.”

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