Depression is a common but serious condition that can affect anyone. It makes people feel sad, hopeless, and uninterested in life.
It can affect how they think, feel, and behave. In the U.S., at any given time, about one in twenty people is grappling with some form of depression.
Many people with depression can find relief through therapy and medication. But for some, these traditional treatments don’t work.
This group makes up about 20% of those dealing with depression. For these people, finding an effective treatment is like searching for a needle in a haystack.
Pioneering Work with TMS
A scientist named Dr. Mark George, from the Medical University of South Carolina, is trying to change this. He’s a leader in a field that uses something called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to treat depression.
TMS is a type of therapy that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain. It was given the thumbs-up by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2008.
TMS works by using a magnet to boost brain activity in an area of the brain called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.
This area plays a role in mood regulation and decision-making. The treatment can be a ray of hope for people whose depression doesn’t get better with antidepressants.
How Does TMS Work?
In the first two weeks of TMS treatment, most patients start feeling better. By the end of the six-week treatment cycle, about one in three patients no longer feel depressed.
Another one in three feel less depressed. But the treatment doesn’t work for everyone. About one in three patients don’t respond to TMS.
Dr. George wants to change this. He’s trying to personalize TMS treatment to make it more effective. He believes that by targeting different parts of the brain in different patients, TMS can help more people.
New Research and Findings
In a recent study, Dr. George and a team of international researchers made an exciting discovery. They found that using TMS to stimulate a different part of the brain could also help treat depression.
This other area is called the medial prefrontal cortex. The study was published in a scientific journal called JCI Insight.
Before the treatment, the researchers collected lots of data on each patient. They measured different signs of depression and anxiety.
They also collected data on brain activity during the first treatment session.
After gathering all this information, each patient was given one of two types of TMS treatment.
One targeted the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and the other targeted the medial prefrontal cortex. Both treatments lasted six weeks.
The results were promising. Both treatments worked about equally well: 61% of those getting the usual treatment and 64% of those getting the new treatment responded well.
But the most exciting part was that the researchers found links between the patients’ pre-treatment symptoms and brain activity and the type of treatment they were given.
This could help doctors decide which type of TMS treatment would work best for each patient.
Patients who had high levels of depression and anxiety before treatment responded better to the usual TMS treatment. Those with lower levels responded best to the new treatment.
The Future of TMS and Depression Treatment
This study is a first step towards personalized medicine for depression. If doctors can tailor TMS treatment to each patient’s symptoms, it could help more people. The next step is to test this idea in a new study.
Dr. George’s research gives hope to people with depression who haven’t found relief through traditional treatments.
If doctors can use TMS to target specific areas of the brain based on a patient’s symptoms, it could dramatically improve treatment outcomes.
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The study was published in JCI Insight.
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