How a metamaterial might improve a depression treatment

ScienceDaily, 10/30/2013

A brain stimulation technique that is used to treat tough cases of depression could be considerably improved with a new headpiece designed by University of Michigan engineers. Computer simulations showed that the headpiece – a square array of 64 circular metallic coils – could one day help researchers and doctors hit finer targets in the brain that are twice as deep as they can reach today, and without causing pain. In transcranial magnetic stimulation, special coils create a fluctuating magnetic field that then generates a weak electrical field that can travel through the scalp and skull noninvasively. The electrical signal activates neurons in targeted parts of the brain – a complex electrical network itself. Exactly how the technique alleviates depression isn't well understood, but it tends to reduce symptoms in roughly half of patients who don't respond to antidepressants. It's been an FDA–approved mental illness treatment since 2006, but researchers say the technology is still relatively crude. To treat depression more effectively, it's been hypothesized that the signal should reach beyond 2 centimeters. In simulations, at 2.4 centimeters, the new system excited 2.6 times less unwanted brain volume than today's systems. It can go deeper as well.

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