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Barcelona hospital carries out pioneer treatment for anorexia patients

Three out of the four individuals in the trial who received deep brain stimulation saw an improved prognosis


13 July 2018 05:07 PM


ACN | Barcelona

Eating disorders can be tough to beat, and some can even be deadly if left untreated. This is the case in particular for anorexia. But now, a new cutting-edge treatment in a Barcelona carried out in the Hospital del Mar, has yielded positive results.

The test was done using an innovative treatment: deep brain stimulation, achieved in a complex surgery which places electrodes on the brain to stimulate neural pathways. The technique is still pioneer in Europe, while it’s used often to treat conditions like Parkinson’s, for eating disorders like anorexia it’s employed in chronic and severe cases where conventional treatments failed to work.

“Anorexia doesn’t end,” says neurosurgeon

Three out of the four patients in the trial improved: they gained weight, and their attitude towards food changed. However, during the press conference to discuss the results, physicians stressed that it’s important to remember that this is a treatment, not a cure. Gloria Villalba, a neurosurgeon involved in the study, explained that as an illness, “anorexia doesn’t end.” Comparing it to diabetes, she said it’s like how when a patient “receives insulin, their sugar levels get better, but they’ll continue being diabetic.”  

“I’m starting to be happy, I’m eating,” says patient

Researchers say that after one more round of testing, this innovative new treatment could become available within the next three years, leading to an addition to the possibilities for treatment that could help many people. One of the patients involved in the study, Elisabet Valladares, gave her testimony about her experience. “Since the operation, I feel marvelously well,” she explained, adding that she has “nothing bad to say.” Breaking down into tears, she continued: “I only want to say that I’m starting to be happy, I’m eating,” she said, further confessing that she “hadn’t eaten in four years.”

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by weight loss, difficulties in maintaining appropriate body weight, and restriction of what is ingested. In Catalonia, there are various resources to help if you or someone you know suffers from this.  This includes the Association Against Anorexia and Bulimia (ACAB), and, on an international level, websites like Eating Disorder Hope.


  • Surgeons operate on a patient with anorexia at the Hospital del Mar (courtesy of Hospital del Mar, July 12 2018)

  • Surgeons operate on a patient with anorexia at the Hospital del Mar (courtesy of Hospital del Mar, July 12 2018)