Electromagnetic brain shotgun almost ready to treat depression

It's often hard to tell just where in the brain depression comes from. A company called Brainsway has developed an electromagnetic "shotgun" that can stimulate a bunch of different areas of the brain all at once, and after promising trials, it's applying for FDA approval to use it clinically.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a technique that uses electromagnetic fields to kick start electrical activity areas of the brain that appear to not be performing up to snuff, which could be a cause of depression in some people. Traditionally, TMS is performed in just one specific area just a few centimeters beneath the surface of the skull, which would be great if we were sure that that was the spot where depression comes from. But, we're not, and this is why Brainsway came up with something more powerful.

The reason the Brainsway device is nicknamed a shotgun is that it uses a whole bunch of electromagnetic coils to generate magnetic fields deep within multiple areas of the brain all at once. From IEEE's Samuel K. Moore:

"The Brainsway coil is more like a shotgun than a rifle," says Mark S. George, a pioneer of TMS and director of the brain stimulation laboratory at the Medical University of South Carolina, in Charleston. It's unclear which weapon will be better at fighting depression. A tightly focused stimulation might be best if researchers knew exactly where to target that stimulation, he says, but they don't.

You wear it like a helmet, sit there while it zaps you, and you're done, with no side effects. A recently published large-scale trial of the Brainsway system resulted in 36% of depressed patients showing "significant improvement," and over 30% going into remission. While 15% of people who got a placebo treatment also recovered, that 15% difference is very significant, and is a much better success rate than many drugs that have already been approved for treating depression.

Brainsway plans to apply to the FDA this month for permission to begin marketing their device in the U.S., and based on the results of the study and lack of side effects, it's expected to sail right through to clinical availability.

Brainsway, via IEEE Spectrum

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