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Format: 04/24/2014
Format: 04/24/2014


Vancouver Sun: Electrodes in the brain could curb appetite

Friday, June 26th, 2009

By Sharon Kirkey

Canwest News Service

Building on research first done in Canada, human experiments are underway to test using jolts of electricity to the brain to keep obese people from overeating.

Deep brain stimulation involves boring through the skull and implanting electrodes the width of uncooked spaghetti in regions of the hypothalamus believed to control hunger and satiety, or feelings of fullness.

A year ago, Toronto researchers reported the world's first attempt to treat obesity in a human with deep brain stimulation. Now, patients number two and three have been operated on in a Pittsburgh hospital, and a fourth is scheduled for surgery in the next month.

The idea is to use electrical brain implants ``to get better weight control'' by resetting the body's metabolism, says Dr. Don Whiting, a neurosurgeon at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh. Chicago researchers reported two years ago that the surgery resulted in ``significant and sustained'' weight loss in rats.

In the Toronto case, doctors did not see an effect on the man's weight. But, in a completely unexpected finding, they saw a striking effect on his memory: When they switched on the electrodes, the man experienced vivid flashbacks to events that occurred 30 years earlier. His scores on learning and memory tests shot up. Brain imaging showed the doctors were stimulating the memory circuit in the man's brain.

Based on that chance finding, the researchers have now tested deep brain stimulation on six patients with mild Alzheimer's disease. ``So far, it looks very safe. No one has any serious problems, and it looks quite promising,'' says Dr. Andres Lozano, professor of neurosurgery at the University of Toronto and Canada Research Chair in Neuroscience at the Toronto Western Hospital.

Lozano's team is also testing deep brain stimulation on depression by targeting circuits in the ``sadness'' centre of the brain and the frontal lobes, which affect motivation. As well, thousands of patients worldwide have already undergone the brain surgery to treat Parkinson's and other movement disorders, and other researchers are experimenting on obsessive-compulsive disorder, epilepsy and Tourette's syndrome.

In the obesity experiments, all volunteers have failed gastric bypass, or stomach-stapling, surgery, and still are ``morbidly'' obese, meaning they have a body mass index greater than 40, or weigh at least 100 pounds above their ideal weight. So far, ``they are, subjectively, definitely feeling less hungry, '' Whiting says. But subjective is a key word. It could be a placebo effect.

 To read more, visit the Vancouver Sun web site.


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