China has emerged as a global pioneer in using a medical procedure called deep brain stimulation, or DBS, to treat drug addiction, according to an article published Wednesday by The Associated Press.
After similar initiatives in the U.S. and Europe faltered over patient recruitment and ethical concerns, the world’s first clinical trial for using DBS to treat methamphetamine addiction has been underway at Ruijin Hospital in Shanghai since October. The procedure involves implanting electrodes in the brain, where they function like a pacemaker to keep the reward centers in check.
DBS outcomes in China have been mixed, but at just $25,000 — around one-quarter of what a patient might have to pay in the U.S. — the surgery is an attractive prospect for addicts who hope to turn around, or even save, their lives. The risks include brain hemorrhage, seizures, infection, altered personality — and the possibility that after the work is done, the patient still might relapse.
In addition to drug addiction, DBS has been tested for treating anorexia, depression, and Tourette’s syndrome. In the past decade, however, multiple clinical trials in the U.S. for applying the surgery to treat depression have failed.
Before DBS, brain lesioning — removing or destroying tissue — was trialed in China for treating drug addiction. But while lesioning makes permanent physical changes, DBS is reversible, at least in theory.
According to AP’s report, six of the eight registered clinical trials for testing DBS to treat drug addiction are being conducted in China.
Editor: David Paulk.
(Header image: Photographer’s Choice/VCG)