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A Difficult Time For Depression Devices

Mood-disorder treatment has eluded the makers of brain stimulators. Will the next round of research fare better?

3 min read

Brain-stimulation devices for treating depression have faced unexpected setbacks. To serve the 40 million or so sufferers who fail to respond to antidepressant drugs, a few companies have tried to treat the disorder with electronic implants and electromagnets. These therapies, however, have stumbled en route to the doctor's office.

To take a crack at those intractable cases, experiments exploring five device therapies will start this year. In total, nine different technologies are now under investigation in at least 27 human trials.

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Restoring Hearing With Beams of Light

Gene therapy and optoelectronics could radically upgrade hearing for millions of people

13 min read
A computer graphic shows a gray structure that’s curled like a snail’s shell. A big purple line runs through it. Many clusters of smaller red lines are scattered throughout the curled structure.

Human hearing depends on the cochlea, a snail-shaped structure in the inner ear. A new kind of cochlear implant for people with disabling hearing loss would use beams of light to stimulate the cochlear nerve.

Lakshay Khurana and Daniel Keppeler
Blue

There’s a popular misconception that cochlear implants restore natural hearing. In fact, these marvels of engineering give people a new kind of “electric hearing” that they must learn how to use.

Natural hearing results from vibrations hitting tiny structures called hair cells within the cochlea in the inner ear. A cochlear implant bypasses the damaged or dysfunctional parts of the ear and uses electrodes to directly stimulate the cochlear nerve, which sends signals to the brain. When my hearing-impaired patients have their cochlear implants turned on for the first time, they often report that voices sound flat and robotic and that background noises blur together and drown out voices. Although users can have many sessions with technicians to “tune” and adjust their implants’ settings to make sounds more pleasant and helpful, there’s a limit to what can be achieved with today’s technology.

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