According to a new study out of the United Kingdom, transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, can be applied to essentially "reset" the brains of depressed patients to help cure their depression.
TMS is a treatment in which magnetic pulses are used to stimulate parts of the brain believed to be involved in mood regulation. Unlike electroconvulsive or shock therapy, which is also used to treat stubborn depression, TMS does not generally produce seizures, according to the New York Times.
The study, headed by Sarina J. Iwabuchi of the University of Nottingham's Institute of Mental Health, used an MRI as a guide to apply the TMS impulses, so that the subtle changes in brain activity could be monitored during the process. This was the first time an MRI has been used in transcranial magnetic stimulation.
"We found that one session of TMS modifies the connectivity of large-scale brain networks, particularly the right anterior insula, which is a key area in depression," Iwabuchi told the European College of Neuropsychology.
This method of treatment is massively important in the fight against depression, as it has been more than 30 years since any real new treatment for depression has been introduced to the market. TMS could provide a better alternative to patients who are simply not improving from other methods.
Many times, when patients did not react positively to medications, they were treated with electoconvulsive therapy (ECT). Otherwise known as "shock treatment," ECT requires anesthesia, and supplies electricity more directly to the brain, sometimes with adverse side effects, like significant memory loss. The main problem with ECT, though, is that it is wildly unpredictable. Scientists still cannot completely understand why it works, when it is successful.
TMS, on the other hand, is painless, requires no anesthesia, IVs, or drugs, and its main side effect is merely a mild headache.
"We also found that TMS alters concentrations of neurotransmitters," Iwabuchi said, "Which are considered important for the development of depression," and are also the biggest targets of most antidepressant medications, making TMS a possible alternative to taking them.
This method of non-invasive magnetic therapy has been used in recent years to treat patients with depression, and has met success, but the long-term effects of TMS are still unknown. However, it does not take a toll on cognition and memory, as ECT does.
"These findings are an exciting step in understanding how targeting the brain activity with magnetic stimulation may exert beneficial effects in the treatment of depression," said Prof. Catherine Harmer on behalf of the European College of Neuropsychology. "TMS techniques are still evolving... This kind of experimental medicine study is therefore essential for the improved personalization and treatment of depression in the future."