Monday, March 12, 2007

TO READ: Gamma knife surgery - could it help depression someday?
A former writing student recently made me aware of a "knife-less" brain surgery technique which is becoming widely used around the world. Called gamma knife surgery, it destroys tiny bits of brain tissue by focusing beams of cobalt radiation on, for example, a brain tumor. The gamma knife can be used even for deep brain sites and, unlike conventional radiation treatments or surgery, can be focused with one-tenth of a millimeter precision, so healthy tissue is largely unaffected.

Sounds very impressive to me. Now vascular malformations, both cancerous and benign brain tumors, epilepsy and other conditions are being treated with the gamma knife on over 60,000 patients each year, according to one web site.

But what about depression? I surfed and web-surfed some more, but haven't come across any studies on using gamma knife surgery in this realm. Yet. One site discusses using it for obsessive-compulsive disorder and even vaguely suggests using it for depression in the future....

But where in the brain would it be used? As this blog has described several times, more and more evidence is stacking up that says brain structures - not just the flow of neurotransmitters - are changed in depression. Perhaps one of these sites could be treated. Often the confusing point in these cases is that we don't know whether those structural changes cause, or are caused by, depression. The other approach would be to simply focus on brain regions now understood to regulate emotions and mood. But identifying the precise areas to target is still too difficult. Still, it sounds as though researchers are starting to consider the possibilities of gamma knife surgery for psychiatric illnesses. One more potential future treatment to keep an eye on.

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