Patients with severe depression who have failed by at least four medications could be helped by deep brain stimulation, says Helen Mayberg.

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is an experimental treatment strategy which uses an implanted device to help patients with severe depression who have reached a point where no other treatment works.

But despite her involvement in the DBS collaboration, which involves neuroscientists, neurosurgeons, electrophysiologists, engineers and computer scientists, neurologist Helen Mayberg does not see it as a long-term solution.

“I hope I live long enough to see that people won't require a hole in their brain and a device implanted in this way,” she says . “I often have a nightmare with my tombstone that kind of reads like, what did she think she was doing?”

Mayberg, director of the Nash Family Center for Advanced Circuit Therapeutics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, introduces Brandy as a typical patient, who says of her condition; “It kind of holds me down, and it takes so much effort to do anything, or to experience anything, and there’s always that cost of, kind of reminds me of like scar tissue, like every time you stretch, it comes back and it holds you even tighter.”

After receiving the treatment, Brandy describes the incremental changes that occurred: “Things got a little bit easier. And even in the smallest things, it got a little bit easier to brush your teeth, it got a little bit easier to get out of bed, it got a little bit easier to have hope. That just started a cascade of positive instead of the cascade of negative.”

This is the tenth episode in Tales from the Synapse, a 12-part podcast series produced in partnership with Nature Neuroscience and introduced by Jean Mary Zarate, a senior editor at the journal.

The series features brain scientists from all over the world who talk about their career journeys, collaborations and the societal impact of their research.