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Monday, 10 December, 2001, 00:10 GMT
Pacemaker helps depressed patients
Depressed man
The device helped patients with severe depression
Doctors have hailed the results of early studies into a new treatment for patients with severe depression.

Trials carried out by US doctors on an anti-depression 'pacemaker' found the electrical device can significantly improve the mental health of patients.

The pacemaker, which is implanted in a person's chest, sends intermittent signals to the left vagus nerve in the brain.

The device was originally used to treat patients with epilepsy. However, it was later found to have a positive effect on the part of the brain that regulates mood prompting these latest trials.

We would be concerned about the long-term side effects of this treatment

Mental Health Foundation spokeswoman
Doctors at the universities of South Carolina and Texas Southwestern Medical Center enrolled 60 patients with bipolar and unipolar depression into the study.

All of the participants had severe depression and had failed to respond to at least two medications.

Reduced symptoms

The study found that after eight weeks of VNS treatment symptoms were reduced in 30% to 40% of patients and symptoms had completely vanished in one in five patients.

However, those with the most resistant forms of depression - who had failed to respond to eight or more different medications - had failed to show improvements.

Mark George, of the University of South Carolina, hailed the results.

"What really made us sit up and take notice was the fact that the symptoms completely vanished in about 20% of the patients," he told the annual meeting of the American College of Neuropsychoparmacology in Hawaii on Sunday.

"I've been treating these kinds of patients for more than a decade and I've never seen anything like it."

A two-year follow-up study found that patients who did not show signs of improvement in the early trials had reported a reduction in symptoms later on.

Cyberonics, the company behind the treatment, is currently conducting a double blind clinical trial into VNS and the results are expected next spring.

The Mental Health Foundation expressed caution.

"We would be concerned about the long-term side effects of this treatment. We would also say that no one thing is going to work for everybody," a spokeswoman said.

See also:

02 Oct 00 | Health
'Brain link' to manic depression
20 Dec 00 | Health
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