A new study by the University of Alabama at Birmingham is using a device originally developed to treat seizure disorder to treat patients with treatment-resistant depression.
Vagus nerve stimulation therapy consists of a small device, the size of a quarter, implanted just below the collarbone that sends out mild pulses to a nerve in the neck. It was approved in 2005 as a safe and effective treatment option for use in difficult-to-treat depression but has not been widely used, due to a lack of reimbursement from payers.
Matthew Macaluso, DO and study coordinator Katlyn Jackson, from the UAB School of Medicine's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, are participating in a national study assessing the results of VNS Therapy® in individuals whose depression continues despite trying four or more treatments.
"When the VNS device started being used for seizure disorders, doctors noticed that their patients seemed to feel happier," Macaluso said. "This was due to the device's stimulating the vagus nerve, which increases activity in the frontal cortex, helping patients with their mood. The study may provide evidence that Medicare and other insurers need in order to cover it."
The device is implanted in an outpatient setting with most patients able to go home the same day. Those eligible to participate include Medicare patients with four antidepressant treatment failures in a depressive episode. The most common side effects of the VNS device include voice changes such as hoarseness, tingling in the skin, sore throat, and breathlessness, and these tend to improve over time. The most reported side effect from the implantation procedure is infection, which occurs less than one percent of the time.
The UAB study site is recruiting 37 patients to participate. If you are interested in joining the study, contact Katlyn Jackson at email@example.com or 205-975-6426.