In this article we will draw on experiences from our own research on deep brain stimulation of the central thalamus in the minimally conscious state. We describe ethical challenges faced in clinical research involving medical devices and offer several cautionary notes about its funding and the interplay of market forces and scientific inquiry and suggest some reforms.
This is the first article in a two-part series describing subject and family perspectives from the central thalamic deep brain stimulation for the treatment of traumatic brain injury using the Medtronic PC + S first-in-human invasive neurological device trial to achieve cognitive restoration in moderate to severe traumatic brain injury, with subjects who were deemed capable of providing voluntary informed consent. In this article, we report on interviews conducted prior to surgery wherein we asked participants about their experiences recovering from (...) brain injury and their perspectives on study enrollment and participation. We asked how risks and benefits were weighed, what their expectations and fears were, and how decisions were reached about trial participation. We found that informed consent and enrollment decisions are fraught. Subjects and families were often split, with subjects more focused on putative benefits and families concerned about incremental risk. Both subjects and families viewed brain injury as disruptive to personal identity and relationships. As decisions were made about study enrollment, families struggled with recognizing the re-emergent agency of subjects and ceding decision-making authority to subjects who had previously been dependent upon them for protection and guidance. Subjects and family members reported a hope for the relief of cognitive disabilities, improved quality of life, normalization of interpersonal interactions, and a return to work or school as reasons for study participation, along with altruism and a desire to advance science. Despite these aspirations, both subjects and families appreciated the risks of the intervention and did not suffer from a therapeutic misconception. A second essay to be published in the next issue of Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics—Clinical Neuroethics will describe interviews conducted after surgery, the effects of cognitive restoration for subjects, families, and challenges presented to the social structures they will call upon to support them through recovery. This subsequent article will be available online prior to its formal publication in October 2023. (shrink)
This is the second paper in a two-part series describing subject and family perspectives from the CENTURY-S (CENtral Thalamic Deep Brain Stimulation for the Treatment of Traumatic Brain InjURY-Safety) first-in-human invasive neurological device trial to achieve cognitive restoration in moderate to severe traumatic brain injury (msTBI). To participate, subjects were independently assessed to formally establish decision-making capacity to provide voluntary informed consent. Here, we report on post-operative interviews conducted after a successful trial of thalamic stimulation. All five msTBI subjects met (...) a pre-selected primary endpoint of at least a 10% improvement in completion time on Trail-Making-Test Part B, a marker of executive function. We describe narrative responses of subjects and family members, refracted against that success. Interviews following surgery and the stimulation trial revealed the challenge of adaptation to improvements in cognitive function and emotional regulation as well as altered (and restored) relationships and family dynamics. These improvements exposed barriers to social reintegration made relevant by recoveries once thought inconceivable. The study’s success sparked concerns about post-trial access to implanted devices, financing of device maintenance, battery replacement, and on-going care. Most subjects and families identified the need for supportive counseling to adapt to the new trajectory of their lives. (shrink)
DBS Think Tank IX was held on August 25–27, 2021 in Orlando FL with US based participants largely in person and overseas participants joining by video conferencing technology. The DBS Think Tank was founded in 2012 and provides an open platform where clinicians, engineers and researchers can freely discuss current and emerging deep brain stimulation technologies as well as the logistical and ethical issues facing the field. The consensus among the DBS Think Tank IX speakers was that DBS expanded in (...) its scope and has been applied to multiple brain disorders in an effort to modulate neural circuitry. After collectively sharing our experiences, it was estimated that globally more than 230,000 DBS devices have been implanted for neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders. As such, this year’s meeting was focused on advances in the following areas: neuromodulation in Europe, Asia and Australia; cutting-edge technologies, neuroethics, interventional psychiatry, adaptive DBS, neuromodulation for pain, network neuromodulation for epilepsy and neuromodulation for traumatic brain injury. (shrink)
Northoff provides a compelling argument supporting a kind of “double dissociation” of Parkinson's disease and catatonia. We discuss a related form of akinetic mutism linked to mesodiencephalic injuries and suggest an alternative to the proposed “horizontal” versus “vertical” modulation distinction. Rather than a “directional” difference in patterned neuronal activity, we propose that both disorders reflect hypersynchrony within typically interdependent but segregated networks facilitated by a common thalamic gating mechanism.