A device implanted in the brain relieves an American woman of obsessive-compulsive disorder and epilepsy A device implanted in the brain relieves an American woman of obsessive-compulsive disorder and epilepsy

A device implanted in the brain relieves an American woman of obsessive-compulsive disorder and epilepsy

A device implanted in the brain relieves an American woman of obsessive-compulsive disorder and epilepsy

American Amber Pearson used to wash her hands to the point of bleeding, terrified by the thought of contamination from anything around her, a debilitating consequence of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
But, thanks to a revolutionary brain transplant used to treat her epilepsy and OCD, Amber was able to kick these annoying repetitive habits.

The 34-year-old told Agence France-Presse that she now lives her daily life properly and naturally, noting: “Before that, I was always worried about my compulsive actions.”

Brain transplants made headlines recently with Elon Musk announcing that his company Neuralink had placed a chip in a patient's head, which scientists hope will eventually allow people to control a smartphone just by thinking about it.

But the idea of ​​inserting a device into the brain is not new, and doctors have known for decades that precisely applied electrical stimulation can affect the way the brain works.

This deep brain stimulation is used to treat Parkinson's disease and other conditions that affect movement, including epilepsy.

Doctors offered Amber a device with a diameter of 32 mm to treat debilitating epileptic seizures, confident that it would be able to detect the activity that causes the seizures and deliver a pulse that would interfere with it.

At the time, Amber asked doctors if they could put in another device to manage her OCD.

"Fortunately, we took this suggestion seriously," said neurosurgeon Ahmed Raslan, who performed the procedure at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland on the US West Coast.

There have previously been some studies on the use of deep brain stimulation for people with OCD, but as Raslan says, it has never been combined with epilepsy treatment.

Doctors worked with Amber to find out exactly what happens in her brain when she falls into an obsessive cycle.

The technique involved exposing them to known stressors – in this case, seafood – and recording electrical signs.

In this way, they were able to effectively isolate the brain activity associated with OCD. They could then configure the implant to react to that specific signal.

The dual-program device now monitors brain activity associated with epilepsy and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Raslan explains: “It is the only device in the world that treats two conditions, and it is programmed independently. Therefore, the epilepsy program differs from the obsessive-compulsive program.”

He added: "This is the first time in the world that this has been done. We usually think of devices for either obsessive-compulsive disorder or epilepsy. This idea is outside the box and will only come from a patient."

Raslan pointed out that there is a study now being conducted at the University of Pennsylvania to find out how this technique can be applied on a larger scale, which provides potential hope for some of the 2.5 million people in the United States who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder.

For Amber, there was an eight-month wait after her transplant in 2019 to see any noticeable difference.

But gradually, the ritual that had taken eight or nine hours a day since her teenage years began to subside.

The time she spent doing several things before bed, such as closing windows and frequent hand washing, decreased to 30 minutes a day.

The fear of contamination resulting from eating with others has now disappeared, as Amber said: “I am happy again and excited to go out and live and be with my friends and family. This was something I had been away from for years.”

Scientists design viruses to destroy deadly pathogens

Researchers from Northwestern University have successfully pushed a deadly pathogen to destroy itself from the inside out.
In a new study, researchers modified the DNA of bacteriophages, a type of virus that infects and reproduces within bacteria.

The research team then placed the DNA inside Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a deadly bacteria that is highly resistant to antibiotics. Once inside the bacteria, the DNA bypasses the pathogen's defense mechanisms to assemble into virions (infectious viruses), which interrupt the bacteria cell to kill it.

Building on the growing interest in “phage therapeutics,” the experimental work represents a critical step toward designing viruses as new treatments for killing antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It also reveals vital information about the internal activities of phages, a little-studied area of ​​biology.

“Antimicrobial resistance is sometimes referred to as the silent epidemic,” said indoor microbiologist Erica Hartmann, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and a member of the Center for Synthetic Biology, who led the study. "Infections are increasing around the world. It's a huge problem. Phage therapy has emerged as an untapped alternative to our reliance on the use of antimicrobials. But, in many ways, phages are the final frontier of microbiology."

“The more we can learn about how phages work, the more likely it is that we will be able to engineer more effective treatments,” she continued.

The rise in antimicrobial resistance is linked to the increased use of antimicrobials, which poses an urgent and growing threat to the world's population, which prompts the search for alternatives to antibiotics that are constantly losing their effectiveness. In recent years, researchers have begun to explore phage therapies. But despite the existence of billions of phages, researchers know little about them.

Hartmann focused on Pseudomonas aeruginosa, one of the five pathogens most deadly to humans.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is particularly dangerous for those with weakened immune systems, and is a major cause of nosocomial infections, often infecting patients with burns or surgical wounds as well as the lungs of those with cystic fibrosis.

In the new study, Hartmann and her team began by using Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria and purifying DNA from several phages. They then used electroporation — a technique that delivers short, high-voltage electrical pulses — to make temporary holes in the bacteria's outer cell. Through these holes, phage DNA enters the bacteria to mimic the infection process.

In some cases, bacteria recognize the DNA as a foreign body and tear up the DNA to protect themselves. But after using synthetic biology to improve the process, Hartmann's team was able to destroy the bacteria's antiviral self-defense mechanisms. In these cases, DNA succeeded in transmitting information to the cell, leading to the emergence of viruses that kill bacteria.

“In the cases where we have been successful, you can see dark spots on the bacteria,” Hartmann explained. “This is where the viruses burst out of the cells and kill all the bacteria.”

Following this success, Hartmann's team introduced DNA from two other phages that were naturally unable to infect the Pseudomonas aeruginosa strain. Once again, the operation worked.

Not only did the phages kill the bacteria, but the bacteria also released billions of additional phages. These phages can then be used to kill other bacteria, such as those causing the infection.

Hartmann plans to continue modifying phage DNA to improve potential treatments.

The study was published in the journal Microbiology Spectrum.
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