Web edition: June 5, 2009
Print edition: June 20, 2009; Vol.175 #13 (p. 29)
The very notion of having electrodes implanted in your brain would seem like science fiction — if 40,000 people hadn’t already undergone the operation, most for Parkinson’s disease.
This book tells the story of heroic people — some on operating tables and others wielding scalpels and drills — and the lengths they’ve gone to in seeking to relieve devastating brain disorders. Talan describes decades of brain surgery aimed at addressing movement disorders and zeros in on deep-brain stimulation, a cutting-edge treatment in which doctors implant electrodes in the brain to reboot aberrant neural circuitry.
Early efforts to treat neurological disorders that failed to respond to medication mostly involved finding the offending brain tissue and removing it. These efforts were hit-and-miss, offering relief only sometimes. More important, these attempts provided a road map of the brain. Technology used in heart pacemakers was modified to make tiny electrodes, and the use of brain scans with surgery has further advanced the practice of inserting electrodes, making deep-brain stimulation more effective, with fewer side effects.
Talan cites several scientists’ work, as mapping the brain and rearranging its signals has been a long, trying story of success with many fathers. And to her credit, Talan doesn’t omit the real risks of brain surgery.
Deep-brain stimulation has gained approval for Parkinson’s treatment, and more recently for obsessive-compulsive disorder. It’s currently being tested for other conditions in which medication may fail, including depression, Tourette’s syndrome, epilepsy, pain and persistent vegetative state. It’s a science still in the making and is well-described here.
Dana Press, 2009, 176 p., $25.