Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have found an alternative way that could treat patients with severe depression through nerve stimulation in the brain. Dr. Charles Conway with Washington University in St. Louis says a nerve stimulator implanted in the brain could help treat patients with severe depression who don’t respond to standard anti-depressant medication.

Conway says little is known about how this stimulation works to relieve depression, but patients who receive stimulation of the vagus nerve, which is located in the lower-back of the brain; can begin to see positive changes in brain function and brain metabolism within weeks or months.

“We’re seeing with people with this vagus nerve stimulator is it generally, most of the patients who get this, they’re the most severe and they’ve failed multiple medications; so these are sort of the sickest of the sick,” he said. “They don’t typically respond right away, but over the course of many months- usually about 6 to 12 months of stimulation they start to get better.”

He says he doesn’t understand why or how this was coming about.

However, Conway says brain scan studies are beginning to reveal the processes that occur in the brain during stimulation and that could provide clues about how it combats depression. “In the patients who respond to vagus nerve stimulation, the majority of them maintain their response,” he said.

Studies have shown that if a patient responds to the stimulation at 12 months, he says somewhere between 70 to 80 percent of patients maintain their response a year later.

“These are patients who have failed multiple medications,” Conway said. He adds that nerve stimulation is looking promising for severely depressed patients.

AUDIO: Mary Farucci reports. (:58)