A study offers "saintly" new hope for those who suffer from depression.
A promising new type of treatment known as Stanford accelerated intelligent neuromodulation therapy (SAINT) accelerated remission for patients with treatment-resistant depression eight times faster than standard therapy, according to a recent paper published in American Journal of Psychiatry.
29 patients, ranging from ages 22 to 80, were roughly divided into two groups, one who received the treatment while the other half received a placebo procedure. After only five days of treatment, 78.6% of the patients in the treatment group were depression-free using several standard evaluations methods.
"It’s quite a dramatic effect, and it’s quite sustained," said Dr. Alan Schatzberg, a Stanford professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences, who was a co-author of the study.
The researchers first scanned the patients with an MRI to localize the best part of the brain to direct the treatment within the prefrontal cortex (which deals with plans, emotions, and dreams in the brain), then placed an electromagnetic coil to create a magnetic field that sends painless electric pulses to "tickle the surface" of the brain that one patient described was like a woodpecker tapping on her skull.
"It’s an area thought to be underactive in depression," said Dr. Nolan Williams, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford and researcher on the study.
"We send a signal for the system to not only turn on, but to stay on and remember to stay on."
Transcranial magnetic stimulation treatment is currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a daily treatment that lasts six weeks, but only about half of the patients improve with this type of treatment with even fewer experiencing remission from depression, according to a Stanford news release.
This study accelerated the treatment response by using 1,800 pulses per session (instead of the standard 600), an amount they deemed safe from data treating Parkinson’s patients with similar brain stimulation technology, and treating the participants more frequently, a Stanford press release noted.
The press release also said the study's participants suffered depression for an average of nine years, and anti-depressive medication regimens failed to help them, but because so many of the participants in the treatment group felt better within days of starting SAINT, the researchers hope the treatment can be targeted to those who need it most urgently.
"We want to get this into emergency departments and psychiatric wards where we can treat people who are in a psychiatric emergency," said Williams.
"The period right after hospitalization is when there’s the highest risk of suicide."