In the first trial of its kind in the United States, brain implants have been implanted in the brains of patients.
Gerod Buckhalter, 33, who has had many relapses and overdoses for more than a decade against drug addiction, has already undergone surgery.
Chief Medical Officer Ali Rezai described the device as a “pacemaker”.
But he added that it was not a mainstream technology and should not be used to “increase humans”.
Mr. Buckhalter was operated on November 1 at the West Virginia University Medicine Hospital. Three other volunteers will also have the procedure.
It starts with a series of brain tests. Physicians then perform a small perforation in the skull to insert a tiny 1mm electrode into the specific area of the brain that regulates impulses such as addiction and self-control.
A battery is inserted under the clavicle and the brain activity will be monitored remotely by the team of doctors, psychologists and addiction experts to see if cravings are decreasing.
What is called Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for a range of diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Some 180,000 people around the world have brain implants.
This is the first time that DBS is approved for the treatment of addiction. This is a complex trial involving many teams, including ethicists, psychologists and many regulators.
Over the next two years, patients will be closely monitored.
Dr. Rezai told the BBC: “Drug addiction is complex, there are a lot of social dynamics involved and genetic elements, some people will not have access to treatment, their brains will change slowly and they will have more cravings. ”
“This treatment is for those who have failed all other treatments, be they drugs, behavioral therapy or social interventions, a very rigorous trial supervised by ethicists, regulators and many other governing bodies. ”
He cites figures that suggest that overdoses are the leading cause of death for people under 50 in the United States.
“More than half of patients are relapsing, we need to find solutions because it is a life-threatening situation that affects family and loved ones.”
West Virginia has the age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths involving opioids in the United States. In 2017, there were 49.6 such deaths per 100,000 population, according to the National Institute for Combating Drug Abuse.
Earlier this year, the Royal Society of the United Kingdom warned of the ethical dangers of merging machines and humans. She was particularly concerned about technology company projects such as Elon Musk’s Facebook and Neuronink, which announced research to develop commercial products.
Neuralink has now requested to launch trials on human patients in the United States, with electrodes inserted into the brains of patients with paralysis.
And Facebook supports research to develop a headset capable of transcribing words at a speed of 100 per minute, just thinking.
Rezai is skeptical about the involvement of consumer technology companies in this area.
“I think it’s very good for science and we need more science to advance the field and learn more about the brain, it’s not to increase humans, it’s very important. It’s not a mainstream technology. ”
“When it comes to applications, it has to be heavily regulated, it’s not like being vaccinated against the flu or a tattoo, the surgery is inherently risky and it’s not trivial. suffering from chronic diseases that have failed all other treatments and are hopeless. “