'Brain pacemaker' offers hope for anorexics

Study finds stimulation treatment improves mood and weight gain and in severely affected patients

Six patients with severe anorexia –  lasting in one case for 37 years – have shown improvement in their condition after being implanted with a “brain pacemaker”.

It is the first time the treatment has been attempted in anorexia and the results “give hope to patients with especially pernicious forms of the disorder and their families,” experts say.

Anorexia affects 1-2 per cent of the population and has the highest death rate of any psychiatric disorder. It strikes in adolescence when brains are still developing and the effect of repeated starvation can cause brain damage making it harder to treat.

The key challenge is to promote weight gain and lift mood. If the first is achieved without the second there is invariably a relapse.

The six patients, all women, were selected because they had failed to respond to other treatments and were at high risk of dying because of the severity of their illness. All except one had been repeatedly admitted to hospital in the past; in four cases more than  10 times.

Scientists inserted electrodes deep within their brains which were programmed to deliver tiny electrical impulses to stimulate eating and lift mood. The surgery was carried out under local anaesthetic by drilling holes in the skull and inserting the electrodes guided by a scanner while the patients were awake.

This enabled the scientists to check the correct placement of the electrodes by delivering a single electrical pulse and asking the patients if they felt a change to their mood or anxiety.

The electrodes were then connected to a “pulse generator” or pacemaker, which was inserted under general anaesthetic under the skin near the collar bone. Ten days after the surgery, the pacemaker was switched on.

It was programmed to deliver regular impulses to the area of the brain known as the Callosum Cingulate, a bundle of white matter already identified as a key area for the treatment of severe depression.

After nine months, three of the patients had gained weight, in each case enjoying the longest period of weight gain since the onset of their illness. Two increased their Body Mass Index by a third, from 15 to 20, to bring it within the normal range (18.5 to 25.)

No patient lost weight and most improved their quality of life, with reduced depression, fewer food and weight pre-occupations, and a lowering of eating disorder rituals.

The patients, aged between 24 and 57, were treated at the Krembil Neuroscience Centre in Toronto, Canada. The pilot study was conducted to test the safety of the procedure but the positive effects were more dramatic than expected. One patient had an epileptic fit two days after surgery and another suffered a panic attack during the surgery but the researchers say the treatment appeared “relatively safe.”

Deep brain stimulation has been used successfully for 25 years in a number of conditions where all other treatments have failed, including Parkinson’s disease (to reduce involuntary movements), severe depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

In a commentary on the findings, Professors Janet Treasure and Ulrike Schmidt of the Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College, say the improvement in mood is key and “will go some way to reassure patients that [the technique] is not just another treatment designed to fatten them up without making them feel better.”

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014

Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers

Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio talks during the press conference for the film

Film follows park rangers in the Congo

Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Adel Taraabt in action for QPR against West Ham earlier this month
footballQPR boss says midfielder is 'not fit to play football'
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Systems and Network Administrator

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Leicester: We are recruiting for a Systems and ...

    English Teacher

    £120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Group: English as an Additional Langua...

    Nursery assistants required in Cambridgeshire

    £10000 - £15000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

    History Teacher

    £60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Seconda...

    Day In a Page

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album