This week the New York Times reports the latest research progress on transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) as a treatment for resistant major depression. More than a decade of research into the mild neurostimulation therapy, including studies by Brain & Behavior Research Foundation NARSAD Grantees, shows its promise for alleviating the symptoms of major depression where other treatments fail or cannot be administered.
According to three-time NARSAD Grantee Sarah Lisanby, M.D., Professor and Chair Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Duke University School of Medicine, tDCS technology is non-invasive, convenient (portable and battery operated) and affordable to manufacture. Unlike another relatively new noninvasive treatment, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), now Federally-approved to treat depression in certain cases; she explains that tDCS does not have the rare but real risk of seizures. TMS was also developed with the support of NARSAD Grants to treat resistant depression.
A 2006 study supported by the Foundation and led by Peter Bulow, M.D., Assistant Professor, Psychiatry, Columbia University, was the first to use a control and to systematically examine the safety of tDCS in depressed patients. NARSAD Grantees Colleen K. Loo, M.D., FRANZCP., Ph.D., Professor, Psychiatry, University of New South Wales and Dr. Lisanby are investigators in the current American-Australian trials.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is still considered the most effective approach for treatment-resistant major depression requiring urgent attention, but carries the risk of side effects such as seizures and memory loss. ECT is administered for a few seconds to patients under anesthesia, but tDCS is given for 20 to 30 minutes continuously while patients are conscious.
The findings of the most recent work on tDCS by University of Sao Paulo researchers were published last week in JAMA-Psychiatry. The team compared tDCS to treatment with the antidepressant medication sertraline (Zoloft®) and found that each produced comparable results when administered alone, but that combination treatment was most effective. In addition, the Brazilian team furthered Dr. Loo’s findings suggesting that tDCS not only helps some patients with depression but also provides some additional cognitive benefits, including faster thought processing.
Read the New York Times story