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Many scientists are interested in the possibility that electrical stimulation of appropriate sites in the brain could repair disorders of mood or movement. The hope is to find therapies that will help with everything from Parkinson’s Disease to pain or depression.
The principle is not necessarily the same as that for heart pacemakers, which use electrical stimulation to stabilize the rhythm of the heart. In the brain, the goal might be either to increase activity of a particular region, or it could in other cases be used to disrupt activity in another region. In all cases, we are faced with some important questions:
- Could it work? Is there any evidence to suggest selective electrical stimulation of the brain could treat brain disorders?
- Does it work? Is there any evidence that selective electrical stimulation of the brain could decrease or eliminate the symptoms of a given disorder in humans?
- How could we know if this works? Who would be appropriate subjects for human trials and what special challenges might we face to ensure adequate informed consent?
- How should this technology be used? If this does work, then are there things that would be inappropriate applications?
KPBS These Days:“The Ethics of Brain Stimulation to Treat Disease”
Laura Dunn, MD, earned her medical degree at UCSF and completed her postgraduate training in psychiatry at UC San Diego (UCSD) including a fellowship in geriatric psychiatry. Her research interests include empirical studies of ethical issues in clinical research (e.g., informed consent, decision-making capacity, surrogate consent for research) as well as studies of psychiatric and psychosocial issues in patients with cancer. In 2008 Dunn was elected to the Board of the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry.
Dr. Michael Caligiuri is a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego where he has held an academic appointment since 1987. His research aims to develop new technologies for monitoring drug-induced movement side effects such as tremor and parkinsonism. He has authored over 100 peer-reviewed articles in medical journals and book chapters on the topic of movement disorders, brain imaging, and instrument development
Dr. Greenspan has worked on the genetic foundations of behavior in the fruit fly Drosophila almost since the inception of the field, studying with one of its founders, Jeffrey Hall, at Brandeis University, where he received his Ph.D. in biology in 1979. He subsequently conducted research at Princeton University, the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology, and New York University before joining The Neurosciences Institute to San Diego in 1997 where he is the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Fellow in Experimental Neurobiology.