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Brain implants used to combat drug addiction in the United States

  Dr. Rezai and his team Copyright
WVU Medical Hospital

Caption of images

Dr. Ali Rezai and his team completed the procedure earlier this month

Patients with severe opioid dependence undergo brain implants to help reduce their desire in the first such trial in the United States.

33-year-old Herod Buckhalter, who has been battling substance abuse for more than a decade with many relapses and overdoses, has already undergone surgery.

Lead physician Ali Resai described the device as a "pacemaker for the brain".

But he added that it was not consumer technology and should not be used to "increase people".

WVU Medicine Hospital

Image caption

Herod Buckhalter has been battling addiction for years after being prescribed opioids for a football injury when he was 1
8 years old

Mr. Buckhalter performed his surgery on November 1 at the University Hospital of Medicine in West Virginia. Three more volunteers will also have the procedure.

Starts with a series of brain scans. This is followed by surgery with doctors who make a small hole in the skull to insert a small 1mm electrode into the specific area of ​​the brain that regulates impulses such as addiction and self-control.

The battery is placed under the collarbone and the brain will then be monitored remotely by a team of physicians, psychologists and addiction specialists to see if the desires recede.

So-called deep brain stimulation (DBS) has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of a number of conditions including Parkinson's disease, epilepsy and obsessive-compulsive disorder. About 180,000 people worldwide have brain implants.

WVU Medical Hospital

Image caption

This x-ray shows that a brain implant has been placed

This is the first time DBS has been approved for drug addiction and has been a complex trial involving many teams, including ethics, psychologists and many regulators.

Patients will be closely monitored over the next two years.

Dr. Resai told the BBC: "Addiction is complicated, there are a number of social dynamics in the game and genetic elements and some people will lack access to treatments so their brain will slowly change and have more. desire. "

" This treatment is for those who have failed any other treatment, whether it is medicine, behavioral therapy, social interventions. This is a very rigorous test with ethical and regulatory oversight and many other governing bodies. "

He cites figures suggesting that overdose is the leading cause of death for the under-50s in the US.

" More than half of patients relapse. We need to find solutions because it is a life-threatening situation and something affecting his family and loved ones. "

WVU Medical Hospital

Caption of images

Mr Buckhalter with his family before surgery

West Virginia has the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the United States. In 2017, there were 49.6 such deaths per 100,000 people, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Earlier this year, the UK Royal Society warned of the ethical dangers of merging machines and people, and was particularly concerned about plans by technology companies such as Elon Musk's Facebook and Neuralink, which announced research into commercial product development.

Neuralink is already being used to start human trials in the United States by placing electrodes in the brains of patients with paralysis.

and Facebook supports research that aims to create headphones that can transcribe words at a rate of 100 per minute, just by thinking.

Dr. Resai is skeptical of consumer technology companies that are involved in this field.

"I think this is very good for science and we need more science to advance in the field and learn more about the brain. This is not about augmenting people and this is very important. This is not consumer technology . "[19659007]" When it comes to applications, it has to be heavily regulated. It's not like getting a flu or a tattoo. Surgery has inherent risks and is not trivial. Only for those with chronic conditions who have failed all other treatments and have no hope. "

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