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ELECTRIC CURRENTS TO THE BRAIN CAN HELP WITH IMPROVEMENTS IN COGNITIVE & MOTOR SKILLS AS WELL AS MOOD – STUDY REVEALS

Monday, November 4th, 2013

THE BRAIN AND ITS COMPLEX BUT SIMPLE ACCEPTANCE OF ELECTRIC CURRENTS

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Whether it’s hitting a golf ball, playing the piano or speaking a foreign language, becoming really good at something requires practice. Repetition creates neural pathways in the brain, so the behaviour eventually becomes more automatic and outside distractions have less impact. It’s called being in the zone.

But what if you could establish the neural pathways that lead to virtuosity more quickly? That is the promise of transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS – the passage of very low-level electrical current through targeted areas of the brain. Several studies conducted in medical and military settings indicate tDCS may bring improvements in cognitive function, motor skills and mood.

Some experts suggest that tDCS might be useful in the rehabilitation of patients suffering from neurological and psychological disorders, perhaps even in reducing the time and expense of training healthy people to master a skill. But the research is preliminary, and now there is concern about a growing do-it-yourself community, many of them video gamers, who are making tDCS devices with 9-volt batteries to essentially jump-start their brains.

“If tDCS is powerful enough to do good, you have to wonder if, done incorrectly, it could cause harm,” said Dr H. Branch Coslett, chief of the cognitive neurology section at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and a co-author of studies showing that tDCS improves recall of proper names, fosters creativity and improves reading efficiency.

Even the tDCS units used in research are often little more than a 9-volt battery with two electrodes and a controller for setting the current and the duration of the session. Several YouTube videos show how to make a rough facsimile.

“I’m stimulating my parietal lobes right now because I ran across some research that it increases mathematical abilities,” says a user in one such video, in which he appears with wires from a homemade tDCS device sprouting from his head. The video ends with him claiming to have improved his score in an online maths game, although he reports feeling a little “wobbly” after removing the electrodes.

Others seeking a cognitive edge are rushing to buy a readymade version called Foc.us, which costs $US249 ($236). A sort of futuristic-looking headband with button-size electrodes, Foc.us is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and the London-based manufacturer does not make any medical claims. But fans posting on the tDCS forum on Reddit claim the device improves reaction time, mood, computational ability and memory.

Available online since May, the device was sold out of its first production run of 3000 in less than a month. “The response has been overwhelming,” said Michael Oxley, a mechanical engineer who is the company’s founder and president.

Low-level electrical stimulation is thought to lower the threshold at which neurons fire, priming the brain to learn and retain information. Delivering 0.1 per cent of the charge used in electroconvulsive therapy, which actually forces neurons to fire en masse, tDCS in clinical settings is generally recognised as safe.

About 30 clinics offer the treatment in the US for various brain and neurological disorders, usually in a research context. Itching and redness under the electrodes are the most common side effects. Still, brain researchers warn that people who try experiments with homemade or Foc.us devices are risking injury.

There is little data on the long-term use of tDCS, and some experts worry is that in addition to serious external burns, people who self-administer could permanently damage their brains, impairing cognitive and motor function in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

“What makes me very nervous about the Foc.us and homemade tDCS devices is the intensity and duration of current people are getting,” said Dr. Michael Weisend, a cognitive neuroscientist at Wright State Research Institute in Beaver Creek, Ohio, who conducts tDCS research for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Air Force. “We have zero data on long-term use on anybody’s brain, and I have scars to prove that you can burn yourself pretty badly with tDCS.”

In the lab, researchers have been careful to place electrodes precisely in order to stimulate particular brain regions. Home users are likelier to guess by taking a quick look at an anatomy book. And the research experiments usually include instruction on how to perform the tasks.

“It’s not black magic,” said Dr Roi Cohen Kadosh, a neuropsychologist and co-author of the University of Oxford study. “tDCS needs to be coupled with adequate cognitive training.”

Dr Kadosh also warned that electrically juicing one area of the brain might degrade function in another part. “What we’ve found is brain power is like a blanket,” he said. “You pull it over to one side and something else is not covered.”

Because studies have shown that tDCS may be useful in treating people debilitated by stroke, Parkinson’s disease, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, clinicians fear that in addition to competitive healthy people, severely compromised people may be tempted to experiment with brain stimulation at home.

“There’s a growing body of literature about tDCS, but there’s still so much to learn,” said Dr Sarah Lisanby, a psychiatrist and director of the brain stimulation and neurophysiology division at Duke University School of Medicine in North Carolina.

“People should not be tempted by devices they can order online,” she said, nor buy do-it-yourself tDCS devices – no matter how often they’ve lost at Halo.

New York Times

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MIGRAINE HEADACHES CAN NOW BE TREATED WITH MILD ELECTRIC SHOCK

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

ZAPPING THE BRAIN WITH MINUTE ELECTRIC CURRENTS FIXES MIGRAINES

It’s hard to convey the pain of a migraine to those who are fortunate enough not to suffer them. Compounding things, many sufferers get no relief from, or cannot tolerate, commonly prescribed or over-the-counter pain medications. Now researchers have shown that applying a mild electrical current to the brain via electrodes attached to the scalp can prevent migraines from occurring and reduce the severity and duration of those that do occur.

According to the Migraine Research Foundation, thirty-six million Americans suffer from migraine, with 14 million of them experiencing chronic daily headaches. Although existing brain stimulation technologies can help relieve a migraine that is already underway, the fact that chronic migraine sufferers can have over 15 attacks a month and the equipment is heavy and unwieldy makes treatment difficult.

While some techniques that stimulate deep brain regions require brain surgery for the implantation of electrodes, the new approach relies on transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), which only requires a strong connection between the skin and the electrodes. It is currently used to treat some psychological disorders, in the motor rehabilitation in stroke patients, and is safe, portable and easy to use. It might also improve your mathematical skills for up to six months.

A team, including Dr. Marom Bikson, associate professor of biomedical engineering in CCNY’s Grove School of Engineering, Dr. Alexandre DaSilva at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry and Dr. Felipe Fregni at Harvard Medical School, found that repeated tDCS sessions reduced the duration and pain intensity of migraines that did occur by an average of around 37 percent.

“We developed this technology and methodology in order to get the currents deep into the brain,” said Bikson. “If it’s possible to help some people get just 30 percent better, that’s a very meaningful improvement in quality of life.”

According to the team’s computational models, tDCS delivers a therapeutic current along the brain’s pain network, a collection of interconnected brain regions involved in perceiving and regulating pain. The team says the technology seems to reverse ingrained changes in the brain caused by chronic migraine, such as greater sensitivity to headache triggers.

The improvements accumulated over the four weeks of treatment, with the effects lasting for months. The only side effect reported by the test subjects was a mild tingling sensation experienced when receiving the treatment. Professor Bikson says a patient could potentially use the system every day to ward off attacks, or periodically, like a booster shot.

“You can walk around with it and keep it in your desk drawer or purse. This is definitely the first technology that operates on just a 9-volt battery and can be applied at home,” said Bikson, who envisions the future development of units as small as an iPod.

The team now plans to scale up clinical trials to a larger study population on the path to hopefully developing a market-ready version of the tDCS in a few years.

The team has published the results of their recent study in the journal Headache.

Source: City College of New York

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

DEPRESSION & ELECTRICAL IMPLANT IN THE BRAIN COULD BE THE ANSWER

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

DEPRESSION CURES VIA ELECTRICAL IMPLANTS IN BRAIN

The anterior cingulate and prefrontal cortex (red) and frontal gyrus (orange) areas of the brain, which eTNS is said to activate (Image: NeuroSigma)

The World Health Organization has projected that by 2020, major depression will be the second-most significant cause for disability in the world, after heart disease. Along with psychotherapy, the disorder is usually treated using antidepressant drugs. There is often a frustrating trial-and-error period involved in finding the right drug for the right person, however, while side effects can include obesity, sexual dysfunction, and fatigue … to name a few. Los Angeles-based company NeuroSigma is now looking into an alternative drug-free therapy, that could ultimately incorporate electrodes implanted under the patient’s skin.

In an eight-week clinical trial conducted last June, researchers at UCLA externally stimulated the cranial trigeminal nerve of patients who suffered from depression. This was accomplished by attaching two electrodes to the skin of each subject’s forehead, which were in turn attached to a mobile phone-sized stimulating device. The external Trigeminal Nerve Stimulation (eTNS) process reportedly resulted in a 70 percent reduction in symptom severity during the trial, and a subsequent 80 percent remission rate, with none of the side effects associated with antidepressants.

The technology is licensed exclusively to NeuroSigma.

Last month, findings were presented on four more subjects from those trials, including functional neuroimaging PET data. It was determined that even brief exposure to eTNS increased blood flow to regions of the brain associated with depression and mood regulation. “These findings of a potential mechanism of action support our original hypothesis that electrical stimulation of the trigeminal nerves, located in facial skin tissue, can provide a very safe and effective means to send signals to key structures deep in the brain, thus providing a high-bandwidth pathway to the brain without current penetrating directly through the skull” said UCLA‘s Dr. Ian Cook.

A twenty-subject, double-blind second phase of the trials began this February, and should wrap up late this year.

NeuroSigma is meanwhile continuing development of eTNS, while also working on a version of the system that would utilize implantable subcutaneous electrodes. Known as sTNS, patients who responded well to eTNS could choose to switch over to it. The technology could also possibly be used to treat epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha