Innovative Brain Implant Eases OCD & Epilepsy in Woman

Innovative Brain Implant Eases OCD & Epilepsy in Woman

At one point in her life, Amber Pearson spent eight hours a day acting out her obsessive thoughts.

She washed her hands until they bled, repeatedly checked the locks on her doors, and ate separately from her family due to an intense fear of food contamination.

Pearson, 34, has OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, that neither therapy nor medication could remedy.

The Albany, New York, resident also suffered from severe epilepsy, which would sometimes cause her to go unconscious.

But four years ago, she had an implant put into her brain as part of her epilepsy treatment — and miraculously found it also helped to hinder compulsive thoughts, according to a Wired report.

The implant, called DBS or deep brain stimulation, was manufactured by a California company called NeuroPac. It collects brain signals and delivers electricity only when it is programmed to detect a certain trigger.

Neurosurgeon Ahmed Raslan theorized that the inch-long device could help lessen Pearson’s OCD in addition to treating her epilepsy, given that the area of her brain where her seizures occurred was also associated with motivation and action, including compulsive urges.

In order to program the device to treat OCD, a team of experts needed to determine what neural triggers they were looking for.

After the implant was inserted, they had Pearson swipe a magnet over her head when she felt obsessive thoughts. The device would time-stamp the moment of each thought.

The team analyzed the brain recordings and subsequently programmed the device to deliver electricity whenever the obsessive thoughts occurred. The hope was that the surge of electricity would hinder such thoughts.

Sure enough, Pearson found the intervention drastically helped reduce her symptoms.

“Every decision I made was based on my OCD,” she told Wired about her longtime issues. “It was always in the back of my mind.”

Thanks to Raslan and a team of other neurosurgeons, Pearson says she has a new lease on life.

Now, instead of spending eight hours per day acting on her obsessive thoughts, she only spends about 30 minutes as a slave to her compulsions.

“It wasn’t instantaneous. It took a few months to notice changes,” she stated. “I slowly started noticing things disappearing from my routine. Then, more things would disappear.”

Pearson says the device has had a revolutionary impact on her life — “Epilepsy brings limitations to my life, but OCD controlled it,” she told Oregon Health and Science University — and hopes others who live with OCD will also be aided by a similar intervention.

“This is pretty remarkable,” Rachel Davis, who researches DBS as an associate professor of psychiatry and neurosurgery at the University of Colorado School of Medicine but was not involved in the study, told Wired.

Pearson’s case is the first of its kind in OCD treatment.

“What this highlights is that OCD is a disorder of the brain, just like epilepsy and Parkinson’s,” Casey Halpern, an associate professor of neurosurgery at Penn Medicine, who helped program Peason’s device, declared. “This isn’t a disorder of will. There’s a pathological signal that we’re seeing in the brain.”


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