Psychosurgery – data please

There is an interesting news article in today’s Science about regulating psychosurgery in China – and calls by some to ease regulations that were put in place a in 2008 by the health ministry limiting “psychosurgery to refractory OCD, depression, and anxiety disorders”. The contentious issue is, of course, schizophrenia, a condition that is notoriously difficult to describe in reductionist neuronal terms. Nonetheless, some neurosurgeons have been lesioning the brains of such patients, and providing anecdotal evidence for improvement.

The entire enterprise would be less worrisome if there were a strong scientific theory on which it were based, but I will grant that it is possible to use psychosurgery to treat diseases that appear refractory by other means.  Nonetheless, it seems a bit cavalier to irreversibly eliminate even a tiny piece someone’s brain on the basis of anecdotal evidence. What is required is a well-designed clinical trial which formally tests the hypothesis that the treatment is effective. Anything less is, well, let’s just say sub-par.

Link to news article in Science