Yes, I’m a Total Geek – DBS and Obesity

So Sandy has a great post today about the DBS human experimentation. As a short summary, DBS (deep brain stimulation) is electrodes surgically connected to a certain area of the brain, and a pacemaker implanted in the chest, in order to then give doctors the ability to send electrical shocks to that area of the brain. The idea is that the brain is sending the “wrong” signals on its own, and it needs surgery to be “fixed” so that the “right” signals are sent.

DBS has found a place in anti-obesity medicine, as a possible method to make fat people permanently thin.

Naturally, brain surgery to make fat people thinner would make the creators of this method, and brain surgeons, dazzlingly rich. This is of course because there has been no weight loss method thus far that has been shown to be generally effective post five years.

Needless to say, in this day and age of many popular prescription medications going generic, the success – or dare I say it, perceived success – of this method would be a boon.

And indeed, as Sandy so well details, the very basis of the methodology behind this surgery is faulty. The assumption is made that fatness is caused by an addiction to food or some other kind of neuropsychological food disorder. The shocks are directed on a portion of the brain that has been suggested in animal studies to reduce hunger.

As those who have had eating disorders know, it is a disconnect with the impulses of hunger that is cultivated during the disorder (not that this disconnect is the cause, of course). In order to most successfully starve oneself, one desires to unhook the natural hunger impulse as much as possible. During a binge, the hunger impulse is also ignored, as one gorges far past the point of fullness (note: for those who are unacquainted with binge eating disorder, it doesn’t mean simply having seconds of a meal or snacking when one is not hungry, or having that second bowl of ice cream on an especially stressful night).

All that aside, there is an especially important quote from Sandy’s article that I think deserves emphasis:

At a meeting of the American Neuropsychiatric Association, Dr. Lozano also described a troubling complication observed when stimulation spread to the hypothalamus, which is the target for DBS:

[T]here have been reports of aggressive behavior induced by intraoperative stimulation in the vicinity of the subthalamic nucleus, thought to be related to the spread of the current to the hypothalamus. There have also been acute depression and anxiety induced by stimulation in the vicinity of the substantia nigra pars reticulata; there have also been reports of euphoria and laughter… by stimulation in the subthalamic nucleus. Because the subthalamic nucleus is rather small… it’s quite difficult to only be in the motor territory without having some spillover into the cognitive and limbic territory, so we often, if the current is too high, or if the electrodes are misplaced, get some of these collateral effects.

Which brings me to the title of this post. You see, I’m a total geek. I love Star Trek, Star Wars, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, and other good sci fi. I’m a science fiction writer, myself. And since the lead researcher of this experiment himself compares it to borderline science fiction, I think it’s apt to reflect a great piece of writing from the movie, Serenity.

The character Mal from the movie Serenity

The character Mal from the movie Serenity

In this movie, the crew of the starship Serenity discover a human experiment on a massive scale. The planet Miranda had been terraformed by the Alliance government, and a general call had been sent out for individuals to become part of a new civilization on Miranda. What they hadn’t been told is that the Alliance government, in partnership with its government healthcare researchers (as far as I can tell in the Firefly series, off of which Serenity is based,  healthcare is nationalized), have developed an airborne drug called Pax.

Pax was supposed to be a “civilizing” drug – meant to weed out aggression amongst the population. However, it had horrible side effects. It worked, in the sense that along with aggression ambition, and even the simple will to live was weeded out, causing many of the population to just allow themselves to die. However, in a small number of cases Pax had the opposite effect – it caused extreme aggression. Those individuals so warped by the drug were to become a permanent threat to the Galaxy at large.

Sure, it’s an exaggerated, geeky example. However, the point is when we start abandoning the idea of rigorous science and studies based on fact with real outcomes, and start marketing anything and everything because there is a population steeped in fear about a particular “malady” (here it is obesity, in the Serenity movie it was aggression), we bear the brunt of unexpected side effects.

Perhaps DBS-surgered obese people won’t become monsters who want to kill their fellow man, but even if they are in the very least bit not just worse off after the surgery than they were before, but the same, it is a violation of the Hippocratic Oath: “First, do no harm.” I consider cutting into healthy brain tissue harm. I consider even cutting into the skin of a person for a reason that is not shown to improve their health harm.

What do you think?

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5 comments on “Yes, I’m a Total Geek – DBS and Obesity

  1. presq-t'j says:

    it is a disconnect with the impulses of hunger that is cultivated during the disorder

    For me, this more accurately describes dieting and it is this that can cause every know eating disorder; including binge eating and compulsive eating disorder, which is the one I had.

    There is no such thing as ‘eating addiction’, because eating is necessary to life, we are all dependent on being able to eat, it is not a choice or something we can forgo, therefore we cannot, not be ‘addicted’ to it.

    I’m not having a go at you Liberty, this kind of drivel is spread wholesale by certain parties, which I don’t object to, as long as we’re allowed to disagree with their interpretations. Unfortunately, they tend to behave as if their views are the only possible way to define things, I’m sure you’ve had a lot of experience of that.

    In my view eating disorders are not mental illnesses merely because they can be so disturbing and upsetting- they are your body throwing off any threat to it’s ability to properly nourish itself, which is a threat to you life. Only the terminally insipid could possibly expect this to be genteel.

    This is nature red in tooth and claw, fighting for it’s survival.

    As for your Pax example, this is why I tend to be sceptical about the whole pill against every gene they keep insisting on. As you said, the other side of a ‘bad’ trait is often a ‘good’ one, and vice versa, do you trust them to know what is what? It occurs that this is why the this food is ‘good’ (this week) and this food is ‘bad’ thing has caused so much mayhem, it’s the underlying assuption that causes them to say butter is bad switch to margarine, then that’s bad because they hydrogenate it to make it similar to butter etc.

    Together with your last point, I think what unfies these issues is the inability of some of us to relate to the body as it is, not as they would define it to be.
    I feel that this is larger than the obesity thing, obesity has been able to take off because it follows a path already laid.

    What I can’t quite get is why we’ve come to this point where we cannot accept the way the body actually functions, I don’t get where this particular example of this has come from.

  2. vesta44 says:

    I don’t think anyone has a problem with bodies, per se, it’s that society has decided that the “ideal” body is thin (and that ideal gets thinner every year) and anyone who doesn’t meet that “ideal” is morally bankrupt. By focusing everyone’s attention on the “obesity epi-panic” they created, they’ve managed to deflect attention from predatory lending, a lying president trampling the Constitution, and a Congress who says they want to fix everything but is actually hell-bent on maintaining the status quo that keeps the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer (and the middle-class losing ground every year).
    Blame all the economic/social problems on fat people who can’t/won’t control their appetites (a fit analogy for those who are addicted to amassing huge quantities of money that they’ll never be able to spend in a lifetime and that benefit no one), a stereotype that has been hyped to the max, and what else can we expect? One way or another, they’re out to do away with fat people, and then they’ll have to find another scape goat. People who aren’t fat had better be worrying about the groups to which they belong that will be marginalized next.
    If this DBS isn’t scaring you enough, just look at the gene therapy research. They want to modify viruses and inject them into fat peoples’ brains in order to make them thin. The side effects/complications of that (along with the same for DBS) are worse than the side effects/complications of WLS. All those asshats who think fat people need to be eradicated need to be tarred, feathered, and run out of town on a rail.

  3. presq-t'j says:

    ‘One way or another, they’re out to do away with fat people, and then they’ll have to find another scape goat.’

    This is precisely why I don’t think they want to do away with fat people, they’d have to find another potential scapegoat class. I think fat people fit the bill too perfectly, they are easily identifiable, come from all races, colours creeds and genders etc.,

    On the contrary, almost everything they do seems destined to perpetuate the conditions that seem in some way connected with fatness and to increase and bring about as much ill health in fat people as they can. Fat people also seem to be a good target in that we are the only group I know of that doesn’t seem to have much in the way of what we call over here, do gooding support. Do gooders is a slightly pejorative term for those that take it upon themselves to defend those that most in society see as beyond the pale, i.e. violent criminals, child sex abusers etc.

    We are just too juicy a target. I actually am not sure they want us to become thin at all. I think ideally they want to make a lot of money out of doing a bad job, WLS is a great example of this, and as far as I can tell, so is this DBS.

    It seems to me to stem from intervention, in the past we had ‘scientific socialism’, now we just have scientism. They either want to tell us how to live, hence we no longer have lives, we have lifestyles , which they claim can be perfected by science and we should just follow that, like a cross between a religion and a political system.

  4. vesta44 says:

    Oh, I think they do want to “do away” with fat people, alright. Otherwise, why lie about the statistics of how many people die from WLS? Why lie about the statistics of how many people get life-altering complications from WLS? This isn’t the first medical intervention that they’ve come up with to do away with fat people either. There were amphetamines (not good for people with heart problems), intestinal bypass (this started back in the 1960′s and killed a lot of fat people), phen-fen (want to get a heart-lung transplant?), Alli (enforced fat-restriction or suffer from embarrassing, possibly debilitating diarrhea), WLS (the list of complications from this is over a page long, and most of them can be deadly), and now DBS and brain-injected gene therapy.
    And there are plenty of other groups out there that will make fine scapegoats once all the fat people are gone. What about people born with debilitating diseases like cystic fibrosis, or the ones who end up with MS or MD? Those are not lifestyle diseases, but I’ll bet that someone, somewhere can come up with a theory stating that they are. Anything that makes a person handicapped for any reason and can be made to be seen as a drain on society can be turned into a scapegoat rather easily.
    And don’t forget all those people against whom some hold racial prejudices, they can be turned into scapegoats too (and have been, and are being right now). Doesn’t matter if you lose one group of people as a scapegoat, there are many other groups of people who can be scapegoated with the right media attention and spin applied by the powers that be who want to keep their power (remember, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, it’s as true today as when it was first said).

  5. presq-t'j says:

    I see what you mean now by ‘do away’, yes I agree they have declared that we are dying and are happy to intervene to help us on our way, and pretend this proves they were right all along.

    I thought you meant they want fat people to cease to exist, at all. I think they have ‘losing the plot’ about our value as humans, but they want us to continue to exist, which is why they keep creating conditions associated with increasing fatness. Such as dieting; which plays havoc with overall metabolism and weight regulation, creating a way of naming us that is incompatible with mental healt-obesity. They know that people of all weights appetite can increase if when they are under pressure, so they pressurise us at every turn.

    Don’t forget the attacks on our sanity if successful also can lead to medication which itself can increase weight.

    And so on.

    I also like your point about the corruption of power, for me, this is at the heart of the medical and science community buying into the crisis. It is our unquestioning trust in them, based upon the fact that we see them as pursuing truth without fear or favour, that has gone to their heads.

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