Magnetic brain stimulation shows promise in treating depression and PTSD

TORONTO- In an armed forces career that lasted more than 30 years David, whose family has asked his last name not be released, helped many comrades deal with depression and post traumatic stress disorder. By 2010 it was clear that he had also fallen victim to it.

“I was spiralling out of control,” he told Global News. “I couldn’t go to work anymore and not only that, I basically stayed in my garage for almost two years.”

David sought conventional treatment through medication and counselling sessions with psychiatrists and psychologists but it was only this year that he found real progress after participating in a research project at Toronto Western Hospital.

“It’s given me a new start,” he said.

It is called repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, or rTMS. It was demonstrated for a Global News camera by researcher Dr. Jonathan Downar, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto.

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With the help of an assistant, he showed how they make a detailed map of a patient’s brain and use it to pinpoint powerful and focused magnetic pulses to an area linked with depression. Dr. Downar pointed out that these kinds of techniques were pioneered in the 1990s, but it is only recently that new, more sophisticated technology has allowed clinicians to reach deeper inside the brain, to a region called the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex.

His team studied its effects on 47 volunteer patients, including David, and the results were surprising. 24 saw a dramatic improvement in their symptoms.

It had minimal effect on the other 23. Some of the best results were with people suffering from eating disorders or PTSD.

“The area that we’re stimulating is not so much a happy button, where if you stimulate it you boost the person’s mood,” said Dr. Downar. “What this circuit in the brain does is helps us self regulate our thoughts and our behaviors and our emotions.”

Given the clear disparity in results, his team is now investigating whether a detailed mapping of the brain can indicate in advance whether the treatment is likely to be successful. But for David, 30 treatments have made a dramatic difference in his life.

He still has his bad days but now finds he is better able to bounce back.

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“At least now I feel there’s some light again and I feel like I can move forward.”

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