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Magnetic Pulse Treatment Targets Depression
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Magnetic Pulse Treatment Targets Depression

Your Health

Magnetic Pulse Treatment Targets Depression
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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

Today in Your Health: new treatments for depression. Up to one out of 10 people who suffer from depression are not helped by anti-depressant drugs or talk therapy. Researchers have been testing alternatives - not medicine, but medical devices that stimulate the brain. We have three reports. First, from Keith Seinfeld of member station KPLU in Seattle.

KEITH SEINFELD: A woman named Georgia is one of hundreds who signed up to test in the experimental new treatment. It's a magnetic pulse, which is directed at the brain.

GEORGIA (Test Subject): The first time I thought, ooh. I wonder if I should be doing this.

SEINFELD: The treatment's called Transcranial magnetic stimulation. Georgia battled severe depression for years. Her medication stopped working, and she was desperate. She's sitting in a reclining chair in a small room at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Dr. DAVE AVERY (Director of Inpatient Psychiatry, Harborview Medical Center): Would you like the lights off?

Unidentified Man: Nothing.

GEORGIA: No, that's fine.

SEINFELD: Dr. Dave Avery is the research psychiatrist who's in charge of the treatment.

Dr. AVERY: Okay. I'm going to ask that you not, not fall asleep.

SEINFELD: A small machine touches the side of her head.

(Soundbite of magnetic coil crackling)

Dr. AVERY: What you're hearing is the sound from the magnetic coil.

SEINFELD: The machine is creating a powerful magnetic field. It extends out just an inch from the device, enough to touch the surface of her brain.

What I'm wondering - what anyone would be wondering is what does it feel?

GEORGIA: Well, I can't feel anything in my brain. I feel like a, oh.

(Soundbite of magnetic coil crackling)

SEINFELD: Georgia gropes for the right word. She says there's no pain at all. It's kind of like an electronic woodpecker.

GEORGIA: It's just like chi-chi-chi-chi-chi-chi. It's a sense of electricity, but that's it.

SEINFELD: The magnetic pulse creates an electrical current about the same strength as what's normal in a brain cell that's firing. For Georgia, a few weeks of daily treatments made all the difference.

GEORGIA: I just felt good. You know, I felt like I had energy. I felt like my whole attitude shifted. It was an attitude shift, definitely.

SEINFELD: Even though this procedure is not yet approved in the U.S. for the treatment of depression, some Americans are getting the treatment by going to Canada, where it has been approved.

For NPR News, I'm Keith Seinfeld in Seattle.

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