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Now, That's What You'd Call a Good Buzz

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Unhappy with your Zoloft? Unsatisfied by your Xenical? Help may be on the way. A new technology has emerged that may take the edge off depression (or appetite). The treatment, called vagus nerve stimulation, consists of mild electric shocks from an implanted generator that are fed into the depths of the brain via a nerve in the neck. The current travels from the pacemaker-like gadget in the patientís chest, through wires to the vagus nerve, and delivers the "feel good" or "Iím full" message to the brain every few minutes. While the precise connection between the treatment and the emotional or physical response remains a mystery to scientists, this treatment could hold real promise: The Associated Press reports that one severely depressed test subject was up and laughing on the day he received his implant.

"This is very interesting technology, although itís actually a more elegant version of techniques that have been used to treat depression for decades," says TIME medical writer Christine Gorman. Promising initial results aside, there are some risks to the stimulator: One severely depressed test subject became manic for a short time after the initial implant; fortunately, the patientís mood returned to a normal ó and happy ó state after doctors adjusted the electric input. Another potential problem: The implant could be abused by patients trying to lose weight; canine test subjects lost up to one third of their body weight using the stimulator, a percentage that would render an average-sized human clinically anorectic.

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