Perhaps the lobotomy (the removal of parts of the brain) is the most controvertial
of treatments that have been developed over the past two centuries for mania
and depression. And what is even more bizarre is the results that lobotomies
have produced. Here, we'll look at the accident that sparked the revolution
in psychosurgery and its development over the past hundred years as a viable
form of therapy...
The explosives accident that sparked it all...
Gage was a mild-tempered man from Vermont, USA, earning an honest living as
a foreman during the construction of America's railroads in 1848. All was fine
until an explosive charge was accidentally detonated, sending a 3-foot long
rod of metal into one end of Gage's head and out of the other. The penetration,
from a cheek to the top of his head, inevitably went through his brain. Gage
was lucky to have survived this accidental lobotomy with the loss of an eye,
and most of his cognitive abilities such as memory remained in tact,
but a strange personality change occurred: Phineas became almost childish
in his behavior, unwilling to listen to others and often using obscenities.
What had happened?
The part of Phineas' brain that had been destroyed by his
experience was the orbitofrontal cortex the part which has been attributed
to animal/human emotions. Could removing this part of the brain actually benefit
people with overly-strong emotions, and help those suffering anxiety and depression?
Later lobotomists would find out...
The experiments begin...
Phineas Gage's change in personality meant that he was virtually
unemployable, and reports claimed that he ended up as a sight at a circus. His
legacy lived on, however, and Gage's revelations about the function of the orbitofrontal
cortex lead to important and even more fascinating research over the next century:
1935: Becky the Chimp
Jacobsen, Wolfe & Jackson put the lobotomy to the test
on a chimpanzee called Becky. In removing the frontal lobe of her brain, they
managed to make her immune to any distress that she would normally endure when
she made mistakes. When made to take a test in a chamber, instead of being upset
as she would have been previously, she behaved cheerfully.
London's Second International Congress of Neurology
The congress of summer, 1935 brought together the cream of
the world of neurology. Among the attendees were Antonio Moniz, a Portugese
neuropsychiatrist, his admirer-to-be, Walter Freeman; and Fulton, whose lobectomy
of animals (the removal of the frontal lobes of the brain) stunned the visitors.
After a demonstration and great deal of debate of Fulton's discoveries, Moniz
suggested the application of the lobectomy to humans. The crowd was shocked,
but by September of the same year, Moniz had attempted the operation on a woman
patient from an asylum. The woman's mental faculties were damaged after the
operation, but the paranoia that she had previously from was lessened. Moniz
later published his findings, attempting to present his operations in a positive
light, and again gained the interest of the 1935 conference attendee, Walter
Freeman, who would continue his work into later years.
on Moniz: Did you know?
Away from his life in revolutionizing the world
of lobotomy, Antonio Moniz enjoyed quite an influence in world politics.
He helped end World War I in signing the Treaty of Versailles and
served as an ambassador, but was eventually rewarded for his neurological
achievements in 1949, with an award of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Moniz was eventually shot and murdered by one
of his lobotomy patients.
Freeman was a US neurologist who was keen to experiment with
lobotomies, and after reading Moniz's findings, was encouraged to collaborate
with a surgeon colleague who was qualified to operate on patients, James Watts.
The woman they operated on, an American with severe depression, underwent the
surgery (her last concern being of her hair being cut off), and awoke carefree.
Although side-effects of bad communication became apparent a week later, they
soon disappeared and the woman appeared cured.
was after the Second World War that a real need to treat new victims of war-related
disorders such as shell-shock and severe depression became apparent. Lobotomies
grew in popularity, and by 1955, tens of thousands of people had undergone the
Despite the risks and adverse effects that were witnessed
in previous patients, lobotomies remain a valid, if rare, form of treatment
today. Instead of removing parts of the brain as Phineas had endured, the first
lobotomies used alcohol to sever the fibers that linked the frontal lobe to
the rest of the brain. Today, lobotomies are used often to treat epilepsy, and
those such as the amygdalotomy use drills to create a hole in the head.
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