Article by Benedict Carey
Post by Kate Siegel
Three million Americans inflicted by brain injuries, millions of lives impacted, how can we help them with our knowledge of the brain? Typically deep brain stimulation is used on patients with Parkinson's disease, however, recently surgeons have tested electrical stimulation on a middle-aged brain damaged woman in order to reactivate brain function and see improvement in everyday activities. This is a pilot study with the hopes that other Americans will benefit. Typically following a traumatic brain injury the individual will go to therapy and take cognitive lessons in order to improve brain function and ability. However, the improvements in therapy are minimal and take a long time to even see benefits. This accident occurred 18 years prior and she is constantly tired and is unable to read or focus for long periods. Which causes her to be unable to have a job. In this surgical experiment doctors implant a pacemaker in the chest wall that has electrodes attached. The pacemaker delivers electrical stimulation when turned on. For many individuals who have suffered this injury they have severed nerve connections in vital areas of their brain, which renders them unable to do certain things such as talk or care for themselves independently. Much of the damage is sustained in the cerebral cortex which is divided into four lobes, the frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital. The electrodes are attached to the thalamus because the thalamus relays motor and sensory signals to the cerebral cortex. Therefore, when electrical currents are sent to the thalamus they are relayed to the lobes of the brain which promotes function. In just three months she was scoring 15 percent better on standardized tests of planning, memorization, and execution. She also reported to be feeling significantly less fatigued, she no longer needed a daily nap. Essentially for individuals with this type of injury having this much of an improvement is unheard of.
There was also a very similar case six years prior of a man in a partially conscious state, mute and only able to respond to commands by tapping his fingers. Soon after the operation, for the first time in six years, the man uttered coherent words and could identify pictures. The man's ability and improvement was monitored when the electrical stimulation was on for four weeks, as well when it was turned off. The researchers found a consistent pattern of verbal and behavioral responses when the pacemaker was turned on. And, he regained some independence in terms of chewing and swallowing.
These electrical stimulation studies relate to my life because I aspire to be a surgeon. I hope that in my surgical career I will be able to conduct experiments such as what I studied, in order to help thousands of people. For the majority of my life I have wondered how I can help others, and when I read this study I was astonished at the potential of the sheer quantity of lives that could be improved dramatically. The understanding of the body and brain in particular will provide new options for the millions of people who have their lives altered due to traumatic brain injuries. There is millions of people in the world who suffer from traumatic and essentially incurable conditions, which causes them to have a lesser quality of life. My dream has been to analyze and study conditions that individuals are inflicted with. And, this study inspires me to approach medical problems in new and unique ways, and be willing to take risks in order to achieve the desired result. New techniques and procedures are constantly being developed and I strive to be one of the people that makes medical history. In addition, my grandmother suffers from Alzheimer's Disease. Her condition has rapidly worsened over the past couple years and I wonder if this electrical stimulation technique could benefit her? In her brain she has fewer nerve cell connections among her neurons, which transmits information in the brain. If her nerve connections were stimulated with electrical currents the death rate of her nerve cells could be halted.
The significance of this newly explored procedure is that more than three million Americans live with debilitating brain injuries that render them unable to do many everyday things. This technique of utilizing electrical stimulation must continue to be explored. It has the potential to restore partial function and improvement in millions of people. Both patients that had the surgery experienced rapid improvement and the regained ability to do things they had lost. Therefore, others would have an overall improved quality of life. And, if tested in more experimental cases the technique can be refined and perfected. Essentially these initial cases are the foundation to the future treatment of patients who have sustained brain injuries. It also provides an alternative to expensive therapy, because medical insurance will most likely opt to cover this procedure. And, going to therapy multiple times a week for years is time consuming. One aspect of this study that I found very interesting is the role of ethics that is intertwined. For patients who are in various levels of consciousness they may not be able to give informed consent for the surgery. Many of these patients do not have decision-making ability and they may not have family members to make their medical decisions. I have no doubt that the question of ethics will play a large role in the prevalence of this surgery, however, I believe that it has the potential to be life-changing.
Carey, B. (2019, April 13). Doctors Use Electrical Implant to Aid Brain-Damaged Woman. Retrieved May 22, 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/13/health/implant-brain-injury.html?rref=collection/timestopic/Psychology and Psychologists
Ms. Carrigan's Psych Class
We have been reading articles about psychological studies to inform the way we live our lives. Please explore, and we hope you learn a bit about the psychology in your life!