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DARPA’s Eternal Bloodlust of the Spotless Brain

DARPA’s new project, deep brain stimulation

When my sick brother was fitted with deep brain stimulators to attempt to address some of the most debilitating symptoms of the progressive and cureless brain affliction called Parkinson’s disease there was no real alternative to the treatment that his doctors had prescribed. My brother was 40 at that time, he has since passed.

Many understand Parkinson’s disease as an old person’s disease, and for most of my life this was the case. Many are now aware that the illness can afflict younger people (the poster boy for early onset Parkinson’s is the well-known Michael J. Fox). When an older person gets the disease, they usually expire before the permanent progressive affliction exhibits its horrible and merciless deterioration on one who is stricken.

My brother had just exited a regimen of treatment that was promoted by profit seeking drug companies and perhaps well intentioned doctors whose desire to find new treatments for Parkinson’s disease led my brother to be experimented upon. This was, of course, for the combined purposes of easing the painful and ever present symptoms my brother was experiencing and to find a ‘holy grail’ for drug manufacturers; a drug that every patient with an incurable disease must take several times every day (the pharmaceutical companies really love those cash cows). By the way this drug, Mirapex, is currently being prescribed to help lady sleepers with “restless leg syndrome” – both a syndrome and a marketing campaign!

After years of complaints and pleadings to the doctors which flowed out of episodes of dangerous and wildly uncharacteristic behaviors on the part of our sick brother, we threatened legal action, and my brother was offered to be one of the first patients in the nation to undergo surgery to implant electrical stimulators directly into his brain to hopefully abate or countervail the unbearable and incapacitating symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

I have to honestly report that the technology did work. While the stimulator did, as we were advised prior to the installation surgery, further incapacitate my brother’s speaking ability (one of the many aspects of complete body rigidity – I mean like a wooden post, and not limited to arms and legs but both the mouth and throat muscles were also cemented in my brother due to Parkinson’s rigidity) the stimulator did ease his dyskinesia and immobility (although these symptoms may seem contradictory, such are the ravages of the nasty permanent sickness called Parkinson’s disease) allowing him to live a higher quality of life for the last years of his life, especially as the electrical stimulation machine allowed my brother to not have to be a slave to the psychological horrors of Mirapex.

On the day of his implant surgery, our family was at Northwestern Hospital where a brilliant neurosurgeon performed the multiple hours long procedure during which time my brother was kept in a semiconscious state, as is required when one is having holes drilled into one’s skull and the deus ex machina is being tested to detect the most effective placement of the stimulating electrodes. It was during the testing of the electronic brain stimulator that I witnessed something as strange and scary as it was revelatory and understandable.

The doctor positioned the electrodes deep within my brother’s brain, into the area that controls movement of his arms and legs, capacities that the disease took away from my brother, to unlock his limbs so he could walk more easily, swallow…all of the motions that we never think about too deeply that allow us to be humans in this human world. Then the doctor would turn the machine on to see how my brother responded to the electrical impulses, the intent was to make sure that the electrical stimulation was directed at the exact spot in my brother’s brain to ensure he received the positive effects that the treatment was intended to provide. [cont’d.]

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DARPA’s eternal bloodlust of the spotless brain

cross posted at the demise

DARPA’s new project, deep brain stimulation

When my sick brother was fitted with deep brain stimulators to attempt to address some of the most debilitating symptoms of the progressive and cureless brain affliction called Parkinson’s disease there was no real alternative to the treatment that his doctors had prescribed. My brother was 40 at that time, he has since passed.

Many understand Parkinson’s disease as an old person’s disease, and for most of my life this was the case. Many are now aware that the illness can afflict younger people (the poster boy for early onset Parkinson’s is the well-known Michael J. Fox). When an older person gets the disease, they usually expire before the permanent progressive affliction exhibits its horrible and merciless deterioration on one who is stricken.

My brother had just exited a regimen of treatment that was promoted by profit seeking drug companies and perhaps well intentioned doctors whose desire to find new treatments for Parkinson’s disease led my brother to be experimented upon. This was, of course, for the combined purposes of easing the painful and ever present symptoms my brother was experiencing and to find a ‘holy grail’ for drug manufacturers; a drug that every patient with an incurable disease must take several times every day (the pharmaceutical companies really love those cash cows). By the way this drug, Mirapex, is currently being prescribed to help lady sleepers with “restless leg syndrome” – both a syndrome and a marketing campaign!

After years of complaints and pleadings to the doctors which flowed out of episodes of dangerous and wildly uncharacteristic behaviors on the part of our sick brother, we threatened legal action, and my brother was offered to be one of the first patients in the nation to undergo surgery to implant electrical stimulators directly into his brain to hopefully abate or countervail the unbearable and incapacitating symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

I have to honestly report that the technology did work. While the stimulator did, as we were advised prior to the installation surgery, further incapacitate my brother’s speaking ability (one of the many aspects of complete body rigidity – I mean like a wooden post, and not limited to arms and legs but both the mouth and throat muscles were also cemented in my brother due to Parkinson’s rigidity) the stimulator did ease his dyskinesia and immobility (although these symptoms may seem contradictory, such are the ravages of the nasty permanent sickness called Parkinson’s disease) allowing him to live a higher quality of life for the last years of his life, especially as the electrical stimulation machine allowed my brother to not have to be a slave to the psychological horrors of Mirapex.

On the day of his implant surgery, our family was at Northwestern Hospital where a brilliant neurosurgeon performed the multiple hours long procedure during which time my brother was kept in a semiconscious state, as is required when one is having holes drilled into one’s skull and the deus ex machina is being tested to detect the most effective placement of the stimulating electrodes. It was during the testing of the electronic brain stimulator that I witnessed something as strange and scary as it was revelatory and understandable.

The doctor positioned the electrodes deep within my brother’s brain, into the area that controls movement of his arms and legs, capacities that the disease took away from my brother, to unlock his limbs so he could walk more easily, swallow…all of the motions that we never think about too deeply that allow us to be humans in this human world. Then the doctor would turn the machine on to see how my brother responded to the electrical impulses, the intent was to make sure that the electrical stimulation was directed at the exact spot in my brother’s brain to ensure he received the positive effects that the treatment was intended to provide.

During the electrode placement trials, the doctor shifted the wires inside my brother’s head and revved up the stimulator unit – my brother, lying on an operating table, not having been told anything, not thinking of anything in particular, uncomfortably clad in a hospital gown, began to laugh – busted out laughing. The stimulator was turned off – the doctor jiggled the wires – the machine was reactivated…and my brother sobbed.

Revelatory and understandable, I’m not a doctor but have often used the words “synapses firing” (or not firing, as the case may be) relating to my pre-coffee state of mind in the morning. Strange and scary, I don’t read science fiction but am aware of DARPA.

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