Stimulating Brains podcast

#38: Espen Dietrichs – about Carl Sem-Jacobsen, the true inventor of subthalamic DBS in Norway

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In this conversation with Espen Dietrichs, we talk about the work of Carl Wilhelm Sem-Jacobsen, who almost certainly applied deep brain stimulation to the subthalamic nucleus chronically over weeks in 1958. Notably, this was ~40 years before the application of subthalamic DBS in Grenoble by the team of Alim Louis Benabid & Pierre Pollak (episode 4) following the pioneering animal work by Hagai Bergman (episode 17) and Abdelhamid Benazzouz who had demonstrated lesioning and DBS to the subthalamic nucleus had dramatic effects on cardinal motor symptoms in Parkinson's. Sem-Jacobsen implanted a series of electrodes into the basal ganglia of the brain of Parkinson's Disease patients starting in 1958, and in some electrodes labeled "near nucl. ruber" demonstrated dramatic effects on both tremor and bradykinesia. Espen Dietrichs spent many years researching this work and according to him, Sem-Jacobsen was "an inventor, not so much a scientist", so little was published. He showed a compelling film at the neurological convention in Oslo 1962, however – which had been lost for a long time. After years of investigation, Prof. Dietrichs could recover the film and a total of 9 boxes of material in a barn owned by the Sem-Jacobsen family in rural Norway. He takes us on this journey of investigation and scientific history, and also shares how Sem-Jacobsen built an ECG device that recorded the activity of Neill Armstrong's heart while taking the first steps on the moon, as well as an EEG device that measured brain activity of jet pilots and divers. We touch on conspiracy theories of "mind control", personal links to the director of the CIA and a hearing committee, that ultimately cleared the name of Carl Sem-Jacobsen long after his death.

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