For a good portion of the 15 million Americans fighting depression, the available treatments of counseling and medication bring scant relief. The next step electroshock, or, as it has been rebranded, "electroconvulsive" therapy bears a gothic stigma and has frightening side effects. But research into the brain's complex wiring is yielding new therapeutic avenues. Neuronetics, a Philadelphia-based start-up, has tapped that deepening vein of knowledge to develop a therapy called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). It uses a device that generates electrified magnetic impulses to stimulate the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the area that controls mood. That ultra-targeted tweak, channeled through a coil placed against the scalp, sparks a small arc of electrical activity in the brain, which in turn sets off chemical changes that elevate a patient's state of mind. Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2008, TMS won't cure depression, but it may be a big step toward tamping its terrible impact. "I've seen what depression and the side effects of drug treatment do to people," says CEO Bruce Shook. "That painted a very vivid picture for me of how serious and debilitating a disorder this can be." TMS doesn't require anesthesia or sedation. It's usually administered in a doctor's office in a surprisingly relaxed 40-minute procedure. The patient remains awake, free to read or watch TV. There's a tiny risk of scalp burns, headaches and seizures. Some 200 doctors and institutions have each spent $70,000 to buy treatment stations. Dr. Martha Koo, a psychiatrist in Hermosa Beach, Calif., is seeing positive responses in about 70% of her TMS patients. "I certainly think it's an excellent tool to have in the psychiatry toolbox," she says. A typical patient undergoes 20 to 30 treatments over a six-week period. Cost: $8,000. Insurance won't cover the sessions, but that could change as adoption rates and demand increase. Says Dr. Philip G. Janicak of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago: "We are in the nascent stages of TMS playing a quite crucial role in psychiatry as a whole."
by Bob Diddlebock
Next Raimo van der Klein