The process of non-invasive neurostimulation is the purposeful modulation of the nervous system's activity using non-invasive methods. At NINET, we research the clinical applications of non-invasive neurostimulation therapies, including Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, Magnetic Seizure Therapy, and Electroconvulsive Therapy. Our focus is to alleviate the suffering of those afflicted with severe forms of mental disorders.
Photo Credit: LJ WEI
Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) is a non-invasive neurostimulation treatment that uses the application of a low electrical current to modify neuronal activity. Powered by a small battery, a low level of current is passed through two electrodes placed on the head over a targeted area of the brain. An electrical pathway forms between the electrodes and the brain, causing neurons in that area to become more likely to respond to neural electrical signals. This neuronal activity can be sustained and can have a therapeutic effect on brain function. Depending on the brain area being stimulated, studies have suggested that tDCS can be used for improving behaviour, cognitive performances, and mood . tDCS holds great potential as a tool for therapy and research because it has fewer side effects than other neurostimulation therapies, is portable, user-friendly and cost-effective.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive method of neurostimulation that has been used since 1985 to study the functionality of the brain. Through the principle of electromagnetic induction, TMS generates highly concentrated, focalized, pulsating magnetic fields which can pass easily through the skull unimpeded and into the brain. The result of the pulsating magnetic field when in contact with a conductive material – such as brain tissue – can induce a very small amount of electrical current within a targeted area. With an electrical current sufficient enough, neurons within the targeted area will begin communicating with other connected neurons, which would ultimately cause pathways in the brain to activate and strengthen .
Magnetic Seizure Therapy (MST) is a novel form of convulsive therapy that relies on creating a therapeutic seizure. MST was developed as a means of improving the side effects found with using ECT, so that more patients may benefit from the procedure without suffering the significant side effects. Both ECT and MST rely on creating a therapeutic seizure, but do so in different ways. While ECT applies electrodes to the person’s head to pass electrical current across the brain, MST relies on the same principles as TMS. A pulsating magnetic field is generated to pass through the skull with little resistance and induces an electrical current with precision to a targeted area of the brain. The induced current created is much stronger than one found in TMS, and allows for a proper therapeutic seizure to be achieved. Clinical research has reported that MST offers the same clinical efficacy as ECT but without the side effects. This may be due to the enhanced control MST provides by the ability of focusing stimulation only to the targeted area and reducing any external stimulations that may take place with ECT. In addition, a faster recovery of orientation is reported for patients when compared to ECT.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), formerly known as electroshock therapy, is the most well recognized form of non-invasive brain stimulation treatment. ECT is a treatment which induces a therapeutic seizure and is considered a safe form of convulsive therapy. It involves a strong electrical current delivered to the brain, that may create changes within the brain’s chemistry. The National Institute of Mental Health, and the American Psychiatric Association have endorsed ECT as a valuable tool in the treatment of certain psychiatric disorders. It has been shown to be a very effective method at reducing symptoms of severe mental disorders, with tens of thousands of patients treated each year.