Can Electrical Brain Stimulation Treat Bipolar Disorder? New Trial To Find Out.
By Rebecca Lim | Health & Medicine
April 16, 2012
Applying mild electrical currents to the brain has been shown to be an effective treatment for depression, but can it be used to treat people with bipolar disorder?
AsianScientist (Apr. 16, 2012) – Applying mild electrical currents to the brain has long been used to treat depression that does not respond to therapy with medications. But could the treatment also benefit people with bipolar disorder?
The largest randomised controlled trial of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) ever undertaken, conducted by the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and the Black Dog Institute, recently confirmed the treatment’s significant antidepressant effects.
Now, the researchers at the the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and the Black Dog Institute believe tDCS can also improve the day-to-day functioning for people with bipolar disorder, by improving the way they think.
“One of the other things our research showed is that tDCS improves performance on cognitive tasks. Even a single session of tDCS improved people’s thinking speeds,” said research team leader Professor Colleen Loo, from UNSW’s School of Psychiatry.
“This is significant for bipolar disorder because individuals with the illness frequently show deficiencies in their day-to-day functioning, which affects their ability to form relationships, and hold down a job.”
According to the researchers, tDCS is a safe, non-invasive technique that involves the passing of a very weak direct current into the brain through electrodes on the scalp. The current flow can either increase or decrease neuronal excitability depending on the area being stimulated and the type of stimulation being used. Patients remain awake and alert during the procedure.
The researchers are currently recruiting participants for the trial, due to begin in Sydney next month.
“We are expecting that tDCS will improve participants’ thinking by ‘normalizing’ brain activity in the specific regions of the brain responsible for cognitive tasks,” said Dr. Donel Martin, postdoctoral researcher and clinical neuropsychologist at UNSW.
Following the study, which is sponsored by the U.S.-based Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, further research is planned to develop a therapeutic treatment for people with bipolar disorder.
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