Article from ABCNEWS.com
New Weapons Against Depression - Magnetic Caps
B O S T O N, March 19 — Through the years, psychiatry has invaded the deepest recesses of the brain—cutting away small sections, bombarding it with an arsenal of drugs, jolting it with electricity.
These treatments do provide patients with real benefits. But they also produce some serious side effects, including seizures, memory loss and hallucinations.
Now scientists at Boston's Beth Israel-Deaconess Hospital are experimenting with a new weapon, a new hope in the battle against depression. It's called "transcranial magnetic stimulation," in which bursts of magnetic waves are passed through the brain.
According to Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone, a leading researcher on magnetic stimulation, when the scientists passed magnetic waves through the left frontal part of the brain, they activated the nerve cells there and connections in other areas deep into the brain, which had antidepressant effects.
"I tried it myself, using magnets to activate the nerve cells in my arm," he adds. "It caused a tingling sensation, but no pain."
"Contrary to electro-convulsive therapy, to electro shock," he notes, "we do not need anesthesia and we don't induce seizures."
Studies so far have shown relatively few side effects, but it may be too early to gauge whether there may be long-term risks.
A Risk Worth Taking
For Mary Giusti, who suffered from deep depression for 14 years, magnetic stimulation seemed to be a risk worth taking. Giusti received bursts of magnetic waves for 30 minutes a day over a 10-day period.
By the end of the third session, her condition began to improve: "Not only does the depression lift, it went away," she says. "I am now the person I once was."
In fact, brain scans and clinical tests confirm that among severely depressed patients for whom nothing else worked, 60 percent improved with magnetic stimulation. And the benefits last several months before the technique needs to be repeated.
Other researchers are now investigating how magnets may help other brain illnesses, including schizophrenia, Parkinson's disease and obsessive/compulsive disorders.
"I'm phenomenally surprised about this," says Pascual-Leone. "We're talking about every complex phenomena about how we perceive ourselves. And yet this very crude way of activating the brain seems to really be able to change all that."
A simple way of changing the brain. A profound way of changing the emotions.
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