Brainsway helmet technology Brainsway helmet technology The Brainsway helmet has been installed in more than 70 hospitals throughout the United States and Europe. (Photo: Brainsway)

New brain helmet effective in treating depression

Brainsway says its device uses magnetic stimulation to treat a variety of neurological disorders.

A new device could be a great advance in the treatment of depression and other illnesses.

Israeli medical device maker Brainsway has developed a helmet-like device that uses Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (Deep TMS) to treat a variety of brain-related disorders. Deep TMS is a noninvasive procedure that uses magnetic pulses to stimulate nerve cells in the brain. The pulses are sent through an electromagnetic coil (H-coil) placed near the patient's scalp in the area a therapist wants to treat for 20 minutes at a time.

According to the company, the treatment has no side effects. Patients report feeling only a small vibration of the coil elements over the head. Reuters called the technology a “tamer, safer and more precise version of electroshock therapy.” Brainsway says its system can penetrate the brain deeper than any other noninvasive procedure.

Israeli scientist Abraham Zangen and physicist Yiftach Roth developed the electromagnetic coil that powers the helmet while Zangen was doing brain research at the U.S. National Institutes of Health in the late 1990s. In 2003, Brainsway, headquartered in Jerusalem, was established to drive marketing and research of Deep TMS, and own the exclusive license for the patent and technology from the NIH.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Brainsway technology to be used to treat depression in January 2013 for patients who have not responded to antidepressant medications. The Israeli medical device is catching on and has been installed in more than 70 hospitals throughout the United States and Europe and insurers are adding it to their list of covered treatments.

Similar devices are in development in the United States and Denmark. Neuronetics, based in Pennsylvania, makes a TMS machine it calls NeuroStar. During a recent study, the company found that more than half of patients treated reported few or no depression symptoms after six weeks of treatment.

A device being developed at Copenhagen University in Denmark uses tiny electrical pulses to mimic the body's own healing mechanisms and can improve a patient's mood after a week of treatment. The project's chief researcher, Professor Steen Dissing, told the BBC, "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."

Copenhagen University developing brain helmet to treat depressionCopenhagen University is also developing a device to treat depression. (Photo: Steen Dissing, Copenhagen University)

During clinical trials, the Danish device was tested on 65 patients being treated for depression in Denmark, with the added benefit that patients were able to administer the treatment themselves in their own homes. The only side effect reported was a slight feeling of nausea from time to time. "It's like the fog lifts. It was like somebody hit the reset button," said trial patient Annemette Ovlisen.

Brainsway says it is conducting more than 60 clinical trials worldwide to study how Deep TMS therapy could be applied to a number of other disorders, including Alzheimer's, autism, Asperger's, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Brainsway recently reported success in a double-blind clinical trial on Parkinson's disease at San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, Italy. The trial included 60 patients with the disease who received treatment in one of three areas of the brain over a period of four weeks. Researchers say the study shows that the treatment is safe and warrants further clinical testing.

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