Psychosurgeons Are Now Using Lasers To Treat OCD And Mental Illness

by Sean Levinson

Extreme sufferers of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder have a new solution that doesn't involve pills or therapy sessions.

According to Popular Science, those two methods of treatment don't work on 30 to 60 percent of OCD patients, largely because the crippling condition doesn't have a clear biological location.

However, WIRED reports scientists figured out the few areas of the brain where the affected neurological network resides, and some of them can be safely operated on.

The most probable container of OCD is the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that informs a person something needs to get done and brings satisfaction when the necessary action is taken.

Sameer Sheth, a surgeon at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC), said,

It lies at the intersection of our cognitive brain and emotional part of our brains. If you're struggling on a particular project, this part of the brain will help you allocate resources and expend the right cognitive energy.

OCD, however, impairs the satisfactory function so washing one's hands doesn't make them feel clean.

Sheth is among the surgeons who burn the malfunctioning neurons away in a procedure known as anterior cingulotomy.

Approximately 20 percent of OCD patients have such severe cases of the disorder, they qualify for the surgery, but many don't actually end up undergoing it.

CUMC neurosurgery resident Charles Mikell said these patients are "the sickest of the sick," and according to James Wilcox, a biological psychiatrist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, they are often rendered "incapacitated by their intrusive thoughts and rituals."

The procedure begins with a surgeon drilling a hole in the patient's skull and then using a blade to allow access to the anterior cingulate cortex.

A laser-tipped probe then turns the neurons into grey matter.

Roughly half of patients emerged with normal brains, and one trial saw 69 percent of patients experience complete or partial recoveries five years after the surgery.

Psychosurgery has only been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a treatment for OCD, but tests involving depression proved highly successful.

Thanks to this invasive practice, numerous patients with depression appear to have now attained regular brain function.

Citations: Psychosurgeons Use Lasers to Burn Away Mental Illness (Wired), Doctors Are Using Lasers To Treat People With Severe Psychological Conditions (Popular Science)