5-Day Brain Stimulation Treatment Highly Effective Against Depression, Stanford Researchers Find

Stanford researchers think they’ve devised an effective and quick-acting way to treat difficult cases of depression, by improving on an already approved form of brain stimulation. In a new trial published this week, the researchers found that almost 80% of patients improved after going through treatment—a far higher rate than those who were given a sham placebo.

Brain stimulation has emerged as a promising avenue for depression, particularly depression that hasn’t responded to other treatments. The basic concept behind it is to use electrical impulses to balance out the erratic brain activity associated with neurological or psychiatric disorders. There are different forms of stimulation, which vary in intensity and how they interact with the body. Some require permanent implants in the brain, while others can be used noninvasively, like repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). As the name suggests, rTMS relies on magnetic fields that are temporarily applied to the head.

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the Stanford neuromodulation therapy (SNT), relies on higher-dose magnetic pulses delivered over a quicker, five-day schedule, meant to mimic about seven months of standard rTMS treatment. The treatment is also personalized to each patient, with MRI scans used beforehand to pick out the best possible locations along the brain to deliver these pulses.

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Last year, Williams and his team published a small study of 21 patients who were given SNT, showing that 90% of people severely affected by their depression experienced remission—in other words, that they no longer met the criteria for an acute depressive episode. Moreover, people’s feelings of suicidal ideation went away as well. The study was open label, though, meaning that patients and doctors knew what treatment was being given. Confirming that any drug or treatment actually works requires more rigorous tests, such as a double-blinded and placebo-controlled experiment. And that’s what the team has done now, publishing the results of their new trial in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

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This time, about 78% of patients given genuine SNT experienced remission, based on standard diagnostic tests, compared to about 13% of the sham group. There were no serious side effects, with the most common being a short-lasting headache. And when participants were asked to guess which treatment they took, neither group did better than chance, indicating that the blinding worked.

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Source: 5-Day Brain Stimulation Treatment Highly Effective Against Depression, Stanford Researchers Find

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