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Expert on surgical options for mental health therapy to speak in Roanoke Thursday

Expert on surgical options for mental health therapy to speak in Roanoke Thursday
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An expert on deep brain stimulation for mental health treatment is coming to Virginia Tech’s Roanoke campus on Thursday, Dec. 15, at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at 5:30 p.m.

Neurologist Helen Mayberg is best known for her study of brain circuits and pioneering research in deep brain stimulation, which is seen as one of the first treatment strategies for a major mental illness that is not based on behavioral or pharmaceutical therapies.

“There’s something about the pain of a major depression that’s unlike anything,” the neurologist said in a TEDx Talk at Emory University.

Addressing that pain is the focus of her work.

Her lecture will focus on deep brain stimulation surgery and its potential to help patients.

“Dr. Mayberg’s pioneering research into these novel treatments provides the health sciences and health care communities with an exciting new window of opportunity for developing a deeper understanding of the neural substrates and potential underlying mechanisms of depression, one of humanity’s most common mental disorders,” said Michael Friedlander, Virginia Tech’s vice president for health sciences and technology and executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute. “We are very fortunate to have someone with her background and accomplishments address a subject that is so important to our scientific, health care and general communities. Depression impacts the lives, not only of those with the disease, but the people who care about them.”

Mayberg is the founding director of The Nash Family Center for Advanced Circuit Therapeutics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. The center advances precision surgical treatments for disorders including depression, chronic pain, addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder and Parkinson’s and other movement disorders.

In partnership with patients, Mayberg and collaborators are refining surgical-targeting techniques and learning more about which patients are most likely to benefit. Clinical monitoring and systematic long-term follow-up combined with rehabilitative strategies have provided additional insights into deep brain stimulation and its effects.

In the 2015 talk, she describes what happened in the operating room as they implanted three electrodes deep in a patient’s brain.

“Our first concern was, let’s just see if we can do this safely,” Mayberg said. They turned on the electrodes for the first patient, who was awake for the procedure. “First site of stimulation, nothing. Second site of stimulation, nothing. And third site of stimulation, suddenly, the woman expressing that she felt calm … what she was really describing was a lifting, a clearing, of this void of this intense negativity that had been part of her life incessantly.”

Attendees are invited to a 5 p.m. reception preceding the talk, which is also available via Zoom.

The lecture series is named for Maury Strauss, a Roanoke businessman and longtime community benefactor who recognized the importance of bringing scientific thought-leaders to Roanoke.