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Patient in Failed Depression-Implant Trial Tells His Painful Story

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Success stories are a staple of medical communication. The clinician or reporter tells the tale of a patient whose ailment has been ameliorated by a new drug, device, surgical procedure or other intervention.

This method has helped win acclaim for an experimental treatment for depression—pioneered by Helen Mayberg, a neurologist at Emory University–that involves electrically stimulating a brain region called Brodmann area 25 with implanted electrodes.

Journalist David Dobbs began his 2006 New York Times Magazine article, “A Depression Switch?”, by introducing us to Deanna Cole-Benjamin, whose profound depression persisted in spite of years of psychotherapy, drugs and electroshock therapy. After physicians inserted electrodes into her brain and stimulated it, Cole-Benjamin felt her depression lift.

As reported by Dobbs, Cole-Benjamin recalled: “It was literally like a switch being turned on that had been held down for years… All of a sudden they hit the spot, and I feel so calm and so peaceful. It was overwhelming to be able to process emotion on somebody’s face. I’d been numb to that for so long.”

Similarly, CNN medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta, in a 2012 report on Mayberg’s treatment, showed Edi Guyton, another woman afflicted with intractable depression, getting electrodes inserted into her brain in an operating room at Emory. After physicians turned on her electrodes, Guyton smiled and chuckled on camera. “It felt fantastic,” she said later.

Gupta, who like Mayberg is a neurologist at Emory, called Guyton “one of Mayberg’s most dramatic success stories” but noted that Guyton “still has some bad days.”

Gupta and Dobbs both acknowledged that some recipients of Mayberg’s brain-implant treatment did not respond so positively, but the reporters did not tell the story of these unfortunate subjects. Nor have Dobbs or Gupta covered the recent failure of a clinical trial of Mayberg’s treatment method. Called BROADEN, for BROdmann Area 25 DEep brain Neuromodulation, the trial was overseen by St. Jude Medical Inc., a medical device company for which Mayberg consults.

After I blogged in March about the failure of the BROADEN trial, I received an email from a man named Steve Ogburn, who said he was a patient in the BROADEN trial. “I am sorry to say I am ‘collateral’ damage from that study for treatment resistant depression,” Ogburn wrote.

Ogburn tells the story of his literally painful involvement with BROADEN on a 15-minute video he recorded and posted on You Tube. I urge anyone interested in experimental treatments of mental illness—and more broadly in medical communication–to listen to Ogburn’s tale. Then please ponder this question: When reporting on a potential medical advance, to what degree should journalists balance their success stories with failure stories?

About the Author: Every week, hockey-playing science writer John Horgan takes a puckish, provocative look at breaking science. A teacher at Stevens Institute of Technology, Horgan is the author of four books, including The End of Science (Addison Wesley, 1996) and The End of War (McSweeney's, 2012). Follow on Twitter @Horganism.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. SJCrum 6:50 pm 05/13/2014

    Concerning depression, the following is one of the major areas that psychiatrists will benefit from if they know how such a bad situation exists. For example, what causes Alzheimer’s, and how memory loss can be a major depression type.
    In the 1950′s there was an encephalitis epidemic that caused a major unknown occurrence that had people in conscious comas, and these were people in wheel chairs with their eyes open, but only staring straight ahead, and totally unmoving. Except, the enormously revealing situation of if someone threw a ball at them, their had reached up quickly and caught it. Even so, the hand with the ball just stayed there grasping it.
    The point of this is no one knew what caused any of this.
    In addition, three decades later doctors gave them a medication that had the patients instantly become as totally active in every way and just like anyone normal. in a few months though, all of that ended and the patients went back into the endless comas.
    The following is the real science as to everything involved.
    The first part is that the soul brain has three parts to it, the first an emotional feelings part, the second, one that has intelligent thought and analysis, and a final one that has strong feelings for survival and protection. As for this final one, the reason the hands came up to catch the ball was that this part of the soul brain was totally working. The other two were not at all.
    The next part is that the soul brain, when it is inside a body, it connects to the body’s physical brain in three locations, and one for each part of the soul brain.
    As for the encephalitis problem, the arteries to the other two parts were blocked by the disease, and blood couldn’t flow to those two areas.
    As far as their temporary recovery, the medicine they used didn’t do what they had intended, but instead, it just thinned the blood so it could flow to the body brain
    locations. In the end, they never did know why that recovery occurred and they never did figure out how to help it after that. But, simple aspirin would have accomplished it completely.
    So, the science was that they needed to know why that occurred and what then, to end the comas.
    As for one other part, the blood going to body brain cells, for one type, has an electrical current that passes through the liquid blood. And the steady current of blood is needed to get the atoms in the brain cells to have their cores spin, and that then causes the cells to function properly.
    The next part of this is that Parkinson’s disease is also caused by brain arteries being clogged, but that is caused by eating beef that has beef blood in it, and those blood cells then are too sticky for being in human blood streams, and therefore cause blockage.
    As for that, aspirin can be used to thin blood also, and the body’s defense system can then remove the blockage, “IF” there isn’t a constant intake of endless beef blood.
    All of these things can cause serious depression problems.
    Another item of depression is that suicide is a major one that involves people thinking that it gives them a way out to where they won’t exist anymore, and therefore be free of the depression. In truth though, suicide only makes it enormously worse, and doctors need to tell this to patients so will be encouraged not to do that.
    The situation is that when a person dies their soul is still filled totally with the depression, and when they are dead it is extremely more difficult to do anything positive about it. So, it is not a way to solve it at all.
    Sorry, about writing these things here, but the previous thread was totally blocked, and these things are extremely important for psychiatrists to know.
    As for depression also, it is not a chemical disease at all, but people just overwhelmed, and it needs to be treated with intelligence and truth about how to fight against it.

    Link to this
  2. 2. cccdctsm 1:56 am 05/14/2014

    SJCrum, That is a viewpoint I have not heard before. Interesting!

    Link to this
  3. 3. syhprum1 3:50 am 05/14/2014

    I never cease to be amazed how American religious beliefs find their way into scientific publications all this talk of souls and afterlife.

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  4. 4. Leslie Fish 6:34 am 05/16/2014

    The problem is treating “depression” as a neurological disease instead of a symptom of specific emotional repression, which it is. Depression is caused by anger, hopeless rage, which cannot strike its target — and therefore turns back on its source, which is oneself, in an exhausting constant cycle. The way out isn’t the latest pill or modified electroshock, but to admit to the rage, determine what you’re angry about, and then DO something with that anger. If nothing else, make a voodoo doll and stab it with pins! It’s no coincidence that depression is as common in modern society, which taboos anger, as sexually-based neuroses were in Victorian times.

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  5. 5. rshoff2 6:04 pm 05/21/2014

    It is a very disheartening video and I feel badly for the situation Steve finds himself in. There are so many layers of ‘what is the matter with this’. One problem is how outcomes are collected and reported. There is no accountability. Whether they are trials or approved procedures, there is no true loop back mechanism. Look at success rate claims on routine, normal, everyday procedures? Cortisone shots, almost 100% success rate? Adverse outcomes are rare. Really? How do they count the failures or the less-than-ideal results? Lasik? Really? What is the definition of success, what are the statistics, and how do they count adverse outcomes? The devil is in the detail. There is no real mechanism that closes the loop on medical procedures well enough to determine actual success rates. Furthermore, there is risk with every medical procedure. If an individual has an adverse outcome, it may as well be a 100% failure rate as far as that individual is concerned, regardless of what happens to the others.

    Finally, when something does go wrong, why doesn’t medical staff continue to follow through by following up with people after procedures and help them navigate the healthcare system? Because they don’t want to know their study failed! No casualties allowed. They don’t exist. If you try to say anything they cover their ears and ‘la la la’ until you go away. The press will assist them. It’s your fault anyway, and they don’t have to believe you because you are not a licensed anything much less a human being (that’s their philosophy).

    I can only imagine how exponential those issues are for people that participate in studies. And as for their culpability, do you think these participants want to become millionaires off these studies? No, they are simply looking for some relief from debilitating or life ending medical issues. And they are treated like cattle, because they ‘volunteered’.

    I wish the best for Steve. I truly do.

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  6. 6. rshoff2 6:25 pm 05/21/2014

    Leslie, I would agree that you identify one of the many causes of depression/anxiety but, how are we to know that the anger/hopeless rage is not a symptom of a neurological or neuro-chemical disorder or maladjustment? Even in those cases that can be isolated to extreme frustration you would have to change society. For example, you cannot yell at someone without the threat of being thrown in jail. You are not permitted to express anger or even admit to feeling it in our society. To change those issues, you would have to change society. I suspect that behaviorial expectations within our PC society exacerbates (but probably does not cause) some of the depressive and anxious symptoms of mental illness.

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  7. 7. hkraznodar 5:42 pm 05/28/2014

    @cccdctsm: Please don’t feed the mentally ill troll. SJCrum has many posts and none of them have any actual science backing them.

    Link to this

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