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An Albany, Oregon woman has become the first in the world to benefit from a single stimulator implanted in the brain to effectively control two life-altering conditions: seizures caused by epilepsy and compulsive behaviour caused by obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Amber Pearson (pictured above with her treating neurosurgeon Ahmed Raslan), 34, said her seizures are under better control, but the relief from her psychiatric condition is profound. “OCD is worse than having seizures. Epilepsy brings limitations to my life, but OCD controlled it,” said Pearson.
To treat her, doctors at Oregon Health & Science University used the responsive neurostimulation system, or RNS, that now functions seamlessly to control the compulsions that once ruled her life.
“Before I started treatment with my RNS, I would wash my hands until they would bleed,” Pearson said. “My hands would be so dry that bending my fingers would crack the skin of my knuckles.”
Checking and rechecking windows and closets and making sure the stove was off before bed could take 45 minutes. She couldn’t sit next to people while eating out for fear their food would contaminate hers, even during family meals over holidays. She took a shower every time she changed the cat box, said the doctors describing her case in a paper, published in the journal Neuron.
On March 5, 2019, Ahmed Raslan, professor of neurological surgery in the OHSU School of Medicine, implanted the RNS device for the primary purpose of controlling Pearson’s seizures.
At the patient’s request, he also made sure the 32-millimetre-long electrode spanned the portion of her brain known as the nucleus accumbens — the area of the brain associated with motivation and action, including compulsive urges.
“I could target both portions of the brain and get a second benefit,” Raslan said.
Pearson did, in fact, undergo the standard surgery for treating drug-resistant seizures through a procedure at OHSU in 2018, involving the removal of a small portion of the brain where seizures emanate.
The procedure stopped some but not all of her seizures, so Pearson decided to move forward with implanting the RNS — a relatively new type of implant that actively monitors brain activity and delivers a small pulse to quell seizures before they begin.
In the course of conducting her own research, she learned that some people had reported these implants alleviated psychiatric conditions, including OCD. She thus requested the doctors for the personalisation.
Pearson began noticing relief from her OCD within months of the brain implant. Four years later, the outcome has changed her life.
“Now I rarely worry about what’s going on at my house while I’m away. I’m noticing fewer obsessions and compulsions all the time,” she said.
“I’ve been able to form healthier relationships with the people in my life.”
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