Scientists said they had, for the first time, helped women
with severe anorexia through electrodes implanted into their brains.
The technique is in an experimental phase and only some
patients had improved, but the treatment showed promise, they wrote in the
Lancet medical journal.
After nine months, three of the six patients in the trial
had put on weight and appeared to be in a better state of mind, said the team
of specialists from the United States and Canada.
For the three, "this was the longest period of
sustained increase in BMI (Body Mass Index - the ratio between a person's
height and weight) since the onset of their illness," wrote the authors.
Furthermore, the technique known as deep brain stimulation
(DBS) "was associated with improvements in mood, anxiety and anorexia
nervosa-related obsessions and compulsions in four patients and with
improvements in quality of life in three patients after six months of
stimulation," said the paper.
Three patients, however, showed no weight improvement and the
scientists pointed out that the procedure was associated with "several
adverse events" - including one woman suffering a seizure.
Other effects included panic attacks, nausea and pain.
How the trial was
Anorexia nervosa is usually a chronic illness that affects
nearly 1% of people. It is typically diagnosed in young women aged 15-19.
It has one of the highest mortality rates of a psychiatric
disorder - between 6% and 11% - and is among the most difficult to treat, the
The trial involved implanting electrodes into the part of
the brain that regulates emotion so as to moderate the activity of
dysfunctional brain circuits.
The device, which works similar to a pacemaker, was
connected to a pulse generator implanted under the skin.
A the time of surgery, the women were aged between 24 and 57
and had been suffering from anorexia for between four and 37 years.
DBS is used to treat several neurological disorders
including Parkinson's disease and chronic pain, but this was a first for
In a comment on the study, Janet Treasure and Ulrike Schmidt
of King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry said the findings were
"The fact that the procedure was associated in some
patients with improvements in affective and obsessional symptoms is of key
importance since such improvements will go some way towards reassuring patients
that DBS is not just another treatment designed to fatten them up without
making them feel better," they wrote.