Carilion enrolls patient in Vagus Nerve Stimulation trial to help with treatment-resistant depression

This is the Vagus Nerve Stimulator that gets implanted in a patient's chest.
This is the Vagus Nerve Stimulator that gets implanted in a patient's chest.(WDBJ)
Published: Jun. 24, 2021 at 6:32 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Carilion Clinic is involved in a country-wide trial for a new procedure that can help with treatment-resistant depression. It involves implanting a small medical device in a patient’s chest.

Kelsey Corbett was just 16 years old, growing up in Southwest Africa, when her life turned upside down.

“I started having symptoms of a mood disorder. We first started seeing psychologists, then I went to a psychiatrist, we cycled through I don’t even know many medications, I’d say upwards of 10, many of which had horrible side effects and didn’t do much good,” she said.

Corbett and her mother turned toward the internet, which eventually led them to a doctor in South Carolina, who, after prescribing several psychiatric treatments to little avail, implanted the Vagus Nerve Stimulator, known as VNS, in 2009.

“The pulse generator is surgically implanted and it transmits electrical signals to a bipolar electrode in your left vagus nerve in your neck, so that’s how it communicates,” Dr. Anita Kablinger, Carilion RECOVER Site Principal Investigator, said.

When it pulses, it calms down your brain and can stop seizures, along with acting as an anti-depressant, in Corbett’s case. Data show VNS can take up to a year to show effectiveness.

“It was approved for treatment-resistant depression, but Medicare in the U.S. decided there wasn’t enough data to cover it for insurance purposes, which means that most other commercial insurances didn’t cover it, so it’s really been little used,” Dr. Kablinger explained.

Medicare has since approved to pay for people to have VNS implanted if they are part of a clinical trial. Dr. Kablinger is a principal investigator for the RECOVER study--the country-wide trial Carilion is now taking part in and has one patient enrolled. Corbett, a VNS patient ambassador, hopes more people who have Medicare will sign-up.

“It took 4-6 months before we noticed anything being better, but I did go back to school after being out for a year. . . It’s not really an exaggeration to say it changed my life, so I went on to study in the UK, I did an undergraduate in English and Art History, I held down a job, and it’s all very exciting,” Corbett said.

Carilion is the first in Virginia to implant VNS as part of the current clinical trial.

If you’re eligible for the study and would like to learn more you can go to Carilion’s clinical trial page.

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