Andres Lozano: Parkinson’s, Depression and the Switch That Might Turn Them Off (Transcript)

Andres Lozano – TED Talk TRANSCRIPT

One of the things I want to establish right from the start is that not all neurosurgeons wear cowboy boots. I just wanted you to know that.

So I am indeed a neurosurgeon, and I follow a long tradition of neurosurgery, and what I’m going to tell you about today is adjusting the dials in the circuits in the brain, being able to go anywhere in the brain and turning areas of the brain up or down to help our patients.

So as I said, neurosurgery comes from a long tradition. It’s been around for about 7,000 years. In Mesoamerica, there used to be neurosurgery, and there were these neurosurgeons that used to treat patients. And they were trying to — they knew that the brain was involved in neurological and psychiatric disease. They didn’t know exactly what they were doing.

Not much has changed, by the way. But they thought that, if you had a neurologic or psychiatric disease, it must be because you are possessed by an evil spirit. So if you are possessed by an evil spirit causing neurologic or psychiatric problems, then the way to treat this is, of course, to make a hole in your skull and let the evil spirit escape.

So this was the thinking back then, and these individuals made these holes. Sometimes the patients were a little bit reluctant to go through this because, you can tell that the holes are made partially and then, I think, there was some trepanation, and then they left very quickly and it was only a partial hole, and we know they survived these procedures.

But this was common. There were some sites where one percent of all the skulls have these holes, and so you can see that neurologic and psychiatric disease is quite common, and it was also quite common about 7,000 years ago.

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Now, in the course of time, we’ve come to realize that different parts of the brain do different things. So there are areas of the brain that are dedicated to controlling your movement or your vision or your memory or your appetite, and so on.

And when things work well, then the nervous system works well, and everything functions. But once in a while, things don’t go so well, and there’s trouble in these circuits, and there are some rogue neurons that are misfiring and causing trouble, or sometimes they’re underactive and they’re not quite working as they should.

Now, the manifestation of this depends on where in the brain these neurons are. So when these neurons are in the motor circuit, you get dysfunction in the movement system, and you get things like Parkinson’s disease.

When the malfunction is in a circuit that regulates your mood, you get things like depression, and when it is in a circuit that controls your memory and cognitive function, then you get things like Alzheimer’s disease.

So what we’ve been able to do is to pinpoint where these disturbances are in the brain, and we’ve been able to intervene within these circuits in the brain to either turn them up or turn them down. So this is very much like choosing the correct station on the radio dial.

Once you choose the right station, whether it be jazz or opera, in our case whether it be movement or mood, we can put the dial there, and then we can use a second button to adjust the volume, to turn it up or turn it down.

So what I’m going to tell you about is using the circuitry of the brain to implant electrodes and turning areas of the brain up and down to see if we can help our patients. And this is accomplished using this kind of device, and this is called deep brain stimulation.

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So what we’re doing is placing these electrodes throughout the brain. Again, we are making holes in the skull about the size of a dime, putting an electrode in, and then this electrode is completely underneath the skin down to a pacemaker in the chest, and with a remote control very much like a television remote control, we can adjust how much electricity we deliver to these areas of the brain. We can turn it up or down, on or off.

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