Both have collaborated with clinical centers at Stanford and the University of Utah, as well as with researchers at the Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Jaimie M. Henderson, neurosurgeon at Stanford, practiced the operation. The team is currently recruiting other candidates in the Washington Bay area to determine if the procedure is viable for other people with mild-to-moderate traumatic brain injury.
During the operation, carried out last summer, Dr. Henderson inserted two electrodes into the thalamus, a deep-seated brain center in the brain. Precision was essential. Prior to the operation, the team performed extensive work to identify specific regions of the brain that promote frontal cortex activation, involved in reflection and planning, as well as basal ganglia, who support learning and memory.
"Operating on the thalamus is a routine," Dr. Henderson said in an email. "It's a different target, though, and hard to reach because of its size and shape. So, a little extra precision is needed. "
The electrodes were connected to a pacemaker implanted in the woman's chest wall, which produced an active current for 12 hours a day, from morning till night.
The woman progressively improved and, after three months, she consistently scored about 15% better than she had previously achieved in standard tests of attention, planning and executive function. She also reported 70% less fatigue on a standard measurement, and was no longer doing afternoon naps as she had done before, the researchers reported.
At some point during his rehabilitation, the pacemaker accidentally failed and his gains gradually decreased. The doctors quickly restored the power and his abilities improved.
About one in five people who have suffered similar injuries receive continuous treatment. This often includes cognitive therapy – usually computer training for attention and memory, one hour a week for 12 weeks – and many see incremental improvements. But this therapy is not easy to obtain and insurers do not always pay for it.