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11 May 2005
Trial For Magnetic Therapy Depression Treatment

One of the participants in a trial for a new treatment for depression said it is changing her life and allowing her to re-engage with happiness. "I am experiencing joy for the first time in years," Barbara Baas said. "I'm participating in life again. I went shopping at a new store near my home and realized it wasn't drudgery. I actually enjoyed myself." Barbara is participating in a study examining an experimental treatment called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a non-invasive, non-drug technology, in which short pulses of magnetic energy stimulate nerve cells in a specific area of the brain - an area that research has shown to be associated with depression.

The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center is one of 14 sites in the United States, Australia and Canada participating in the clinical trial for TMS. It is being evaluated for treating moderate, chronic and recurring depression, particularly in people who have responded poorly to antidepressant medications. Lead researcher Dr. Mustafa Husain said that while it was well established that neural stimulation could relieve depression, it could also cause significant side effects, such as cognitive or memory loss.

But not so with TMS, which produces the same amount of magnetic energy as magnetic resonance imaging and has little to no side-effects. "With magnetic stimulation, we can provide neural stimulation in a very specific, localized focal area, avoiding those parts of the brain that can cause memory deficits," Dr. Husain said. "In the case of depression, the left dorsal and frontal part of the brain, which is associated with mood regulation, is targeted."

The treatments involve lying awake in a chair for 40 minutes with two small electromagnetic coils strategically placed on the head. Magnetic pulses are aimed at the left prefrontal cortex of the brain. Inside the brain, the magnetic pulses produce an electric field. This field, in turn, stimulates the neurons in that region of the brain, yet the amount of electricity created in the brain is too small for the patient to feel and does not trigger a seizure. "This is a treatment, not a cure for depression," Dr. Husain said. "We need better and more treatment alternatives for depression. Our hope is that this will prove to be another option for people who suffer from this devastating disease."

Individuals interested in participating in the study must be 18 to 70 years old, have failed to respond to at least one antidepressant medication and not be pregnant or have a significant neurological disorder. More information is available by calling 214-648-2806.

(Pic courtesy Southwestern Medical Center)

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