SEATTLE, Jan. 8, 2007 -- The human brain is squishy; it's wrinkled; it's mysterious. It's also more electrical than you may realize. All over your body, cells use electricity to communicate and to stimulate muscles, but the brain takes this to another level. If the brain was a battery, and you could tap all the electricity the neurons are generating, you'd have enough power to turn on a flashlight.
Medical researchers are finding new ways to use the electrical properties of the brain to treat diseases and injuries. Electricity actually has a long history in medicine, dating back at least as far as the ancient Romans. They used a jolt of electricity, from an electrical ray, to treat gout. Electro-shock therapy got a bad name back in the 1960's. But there's renewed interest in using electricity and high-powered magnets to treat brain diseases. One area where it has gained acceptance is Parkinson's Disease, and another is severe depression.
This week, KPLU Radio (88.5 FM; National Public Radio) Health and Science Reporter Keith Seinfeld takes a close-up look at electricity in the brain via a series titled "The Electric Brain." Part one focuses on Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) for Parkinson's disease, where electrodes are permanently implanted in the brain to emit a constant dose of low-voltage electricity. It helps make an over-active area of the brain quiet down. The technology is nicknamed a "pacemaker for the brain." Surgeons say the same technology holds promise for treating conditions as diverse as depression and obesity.
Swedish Neuroscience Institute Neurosurgeon and DBS specialist Peter Nora, M.D., and one of his patients, were interviewed for this story.
To see pictures of Dr. Nora and DBS Program Manager and Nurse Practitioner Peggy Shortt performing a DBS procedure in the operating room and to listen to part one of this series (via Windows Media Player), click here. To read the transcript from part one, click here. To read the transcript for part two, click here.
For more information about the Swedish Neuroscience Institute's DBS Program, click here.