A device which sends tiny electric shocks to the brain to stimulate neurons could one day be at least as useful to people with anxiety and depression as antidepressants, Curtin University researchers hope.
The university’s Patrick Clarke said small electrical currents were being used to directly stimulate underperforming parts of the depressive brain and numb overstimulated areas.
“We know that parts of the brain are less active so we’ve increased activity in this area to see if that has a benefit, and lo and behold it’s having a clear benefit,” Dr Clarke said.
“The results with depression seem to be pretty comparable to antidepressants, which is really encouraging that you can get a non-drug based treatment [after several sessions] as opposed to drugs which often carry a bunch of nasty side effects.
“It’s just one more tool in the treatment ‘arsenal’ to help people, which is really fantastic.”
Dr Clarke said the research applied decades of research which used brain imaging techniques to pinpoint specific areas of the brain.
“We can now take that information about what we know about the brain and we can use that to directly influence how it behaves,” he said.
“The neural stimulation delivers tiny shocks to the brain through a device powered by a 9-volt battery.
“It’s about maximising treatment options and treatment effectiveness to help people get well as quickly as possible.”
Treatment already an option for some
He said the research was in its early stages, but some mental health specialists in Australia were already offering the treatment in conjunction with face-to-face counselling.
Dr Clarke acknowledged however that the treatment might not be accessible as medication for many people.
“Part of the problem with this is that unlike sending someone away with a bottle of pills it’s a lot harder to send someone away with one of these devices.”
DIY treatment concerns experts
But while accessing a device might be harder for some people, Dr Clarke said it had not stopped others purchasing a device and administering the treatment themselves.
“People are buying them online. One person contacted me saying they had really bad depression and did it to themselves,” he said.
“You can’t really condone people going off and doing it, but at the same time you completely understand why they would.
“Experts are looking at ways to put the information out there about doing it safely since many people are doing it anyway.” Dr Clarke said.
This piece was published on ‘ABC News’ March 14, 2017.