February 8, 2006

California-based Cedars-Sinai Medical Center is among the first centers in the U.S. to begin offering vagus nerve stimulator implantation (VNS) for treatment-resistant depression. The device has been used to treat epilepsy for nine years and was approved by the FDA last year to treat depression.

The outpatient procedure, which takes roughly 45 minutes, involves two incisions - one in the neck and the other in the chest. An electrode is then wrapped around the vagus nerve in the neck and a pulse generator is implanted in the chest. The wires connecting the two components are placed under the skin, so there are no external, visible parts.

Once a patient's incisions have healed, the device is turned on, sending intermittent, preprogrammed, mild electrical pulses through the vagus nerve into the brain.

"This is a new treatment modality that may help about one in three people with very severe depression," said Mark Rapaport, chairman of Cedars-Sinai's Department of Psychiatry, in a press statement. "When you consider that chronic, severe depression is associated with both increased morbidity and increased mortality, giving somebody a one in three chance of feeling a lot better is a considerable improvement, and it is a hope we can offer."

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