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Can electric signals ease depression?

Can electric signals ease depression?

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Electrical signals appear to increase blood flow to the brain and alleviate depression symptoms, according to a recent clinical trial. NeuroSigma is looking to commercialize technology from UCLA.

Electrical signals appear to increase blood flow to the brain and alleviate depression symptoms, according to a recent clinical trial.

The trial, detailed by NeuroSigma, which specializes in "neuromodulation," found that external Trigeminal Nerve Stimulation boosted blood flow in areas of the brain focused on mood regulation.

NeuroSigma has licensed the technology from UCLA and is looking to commercialize it. The Phase 1 clinical trial found that patients had reductions in depression severity over 8 weeks. However, that first trial included four patients, who saw a 44 percent reduction in their depression severity score. A Phase II double-blind trial is expected to be completed in late 2011.

The aim for NeuroSigma is to use external Trigeminal Nerve Stimulation (eTNS) as a depression treatment to rival antidepressants, which have serious side effects. The double-blind Phase II clinical trial has 20 subjects and is being carried out by UCLA. NeuroSigma is funding the study, which started in February.

Here's how these eTNS systems work.

  • A patient wears a system about the size of a cell phone.
  • Wires run to the trigeminal nerve, the largest one in the cranium.
  • Mild electrical signals are passed.
  • The system is worn overnight as the patient sleeps.

According to NeuroSigma, eTNS is being explored to alleviate epilepsy, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. It's unclear where these clinical trials are headed, but NeuroSigma has a novel approach worth watching.

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Larry Dignan

Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief Larry Dignan is editor-in-chief of SmartPlanet and ZDNet. He is also editorial director of TechRepublic. Previously, he was an editor at eWeek, Baseline and CNET News. He has written for WallStreetWeek.com, Inter@ctive Week, New York Times and Financial Planning. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the University of Delaware. He is based in New York but resides in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure