Deep brain stimulation, or DBS, has proved a powerful way to block the tremors of Parkinson's disease. Blocking mental illness isn't nearly as easy a task.
(...) How does it work? Surgeons implant a wire deep in the brain. Tiny electrical jolts — running from a pacemaker-like generator near the collarbone up the neck to that electrode — disable overactive nerve cells to curb the shaking.
Scientists figured out which spot to target based on surgery that sometimes helps worst-case Parkinson's patients by destroying patches of brain tissue. But with deep brain stimulation, the electrodes don't destroy that tissue. The electrical signals can be adjusted or even turned off if they don't help, or if they cause neurological side effects. (The surgery, however, does sometimes cause dangerous brain bleeding or infections.)
Psychiatric illnesses require a similar operation — but surgeons must implant the electrode into a different spot in the brain.
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