Brain Implant Could Treat Anorexia

By McCarton Ackerman 03/31/15

A risky procedure could be a major breakthrough in aiding sufferers of anorexia. 

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In a highly experimental procedure that has the potential to become more mainstream, a British woman is reportedly responding to a brain implant created to help her overcome anorexia.

The $37,000 procedure involved inserting a small generator box, similar to a pacemaker, in the woman’s ribs before running a wire into her brain. Professor Tipu Aziz, a neurosurgeon at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, said the patient is “doing well” and that “there has been a response in the treatment,” but acknowledged that it was in its “early days.”

The hope for the procedure is to address malfunctions in the nucleus accumbens, located deep in the middle of the brain, with some anorexic patients. This malfunction means the patients don’t enjoy eating, but the small charge in this deep brain stimulation procedure could stimulate the brain into enjoying eating again.

A similar DBS study involving six patients at Toronto Western Hospital in Canada also yielded positive signs. One of the patients, 38-year-old Kim Rollins, said the procedure “turned my life around” after suffering from anorexia for 20 years. She confirmed that she is “now at a healthy weight.”

Anorexia expert Dr. Rebecca Park, who has been heavily involved in the project, believes it’s essential for new treatments to be created for those who don’t respond to either rehab or traditional therapies. However, Aziz believes that DBS procedures will never become a routine practice.

“This is a treatment that will only be for those who have failed all over treatments for anorexia,” he explained to Daily Mail. “Surgery on the brain is something that would only be used as a last resort because of the potential risks that are involved in any operation.”

A study from last month found that eating disorders costs the U.K. upwards of $23 billion annually. Susan Ringwood and Chris Outram, the chief executive and chairman of Beat, which commissioned the study, referred to eating disorder treatment in the U.K. as “patchy at best [and] inadequate at worst” with “unacceptable variability.” Beat found that nearly half of those with an eating disorder waited a year before receiving help. Once they reached out for help, it took about a year to receive a proper diagnosis and another six months to receive treatment.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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