Photo: Copenhagen University

Photo: Copenhagen University

Danish researchers have developed a special helmet that shoots electro-magnetic waves in target brain regions and treats patients suffering from depression. The results so far have been extremely promising, especially since it seems to work very well for patients suffering from extreme forms of depressions where conventional medicine doesn’t seem to work.

According to the World Health Organization, there are some 350 million people worldwide suffering from depression, especially among the elderly where one in five succumb. Some people are more miserable than others, though, to the point that no medication seems to provide any ailment. All sorts of alternative treatments have been devised with this in mind, like electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) – a controversial and downright scary form of therapy that involves strapping the patient to a stretcher and applying a current that generates an epileptic fit lasting 20 to 50 seconds. This form of therapy is definitely hardcore and is reserved only for the worse case of depression. As you might imagine, however, it does pose important side effects, including personality disorders.

A mild zap

The helmet developed by researchers at the  Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at Copenhagen University and the Psychiatric Centre at Hillerod in North Zealand is extremely effective and harmless, unlike ECT. The device contains seven coils that deliver a dose of Transcranial Pulsating Electro Magnetic Fields (T-PEMF) to brain tissues in pulses so minute that the patient can’t feel any sensation, except for an occasional nausea that disappears immediately following treatment.

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By mimicking the electrical fields native to the brain, the device coaxes the brain to trigger its healing mechanism. Each pulse helps activate capillaries in the brain, forming new blood vessels and secreting growth hormones.

In a clinical trial,  34 patients received half an hour of T-PEMF once a day, and 31 had two 30-minute doses.  Two-thirds who used it reported that their symptoms had disappeared, and improvements in mood were noticeable within a week.  They are currently seeking permission from the European Union to market the helmet within six months to a year, and said the potential demand was enormous.

“We think it works so well because we have imitated the electrical signalling that goes on in the brain and we figured out that this signalling communicates with the blood vessels,” said Prof Steen Dissing, of Copenhagen’s Faculty of Health Sciences.

“And blood vessels do communicate with blood tissue. And we found that communication pathway.”

Colleagues at Odense University are so impressed with his invention that they will conduct an experiment in May to determine whether T-PEMF can have a positive impact on the degenerative Parkinson’s Disease. We must take note, however, that the patients also continued taking their regular anti-depressant medication for the eight weeks of the trial.

Findings were reported in the journal Acta Neuropsychiatrica.