London: Scientists have found a new magnetic therapy for depression which they claim could soon spell the end for brain-altering, anti-depressant drugs.
The NeuroStar TMS Therapy developed by researchers at the University of California Los Angeles works by beaming magnetic pulses through the skull that trigger small electrical charges that spark brain cells to fire.
Results from trials on more than 300 patients with severe depression showed that 58 per cent of them achieved a positive response while over a third (37 per cent) went into remission.
The study findings, presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, could be a potent new treatment, the researchers said.
"The improvements we observed show that non-drug therapy with NeuroStar TMS not only reduces the symptomatic suffering of patients, but lessens the disability of depression with important implications for these individuals` ability to return to functioning effectively at home, in the workplace, and in the community," study leader Dr Ian Cook was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.
In the study, the participating patients filled in a health questionnaire before and after the treatment.
During each half-hour session the patient was placed under a treatment coil which is the size of a cupped hand. It sent a pulsed magnetic field an inch under the scalp to the prefrontal cortex, the ante cingulate cortex and the limbic system, which are the three areas of the brain thought to regulate mood.
The magnetic field is similar in strength to that created by an MRI machine and sparks off very small electrical currents within the brain. This stimulates neuron activity thought to provide relief from depression.
Anti-depressants are released into the blood, which can cause widespread physical side-effects such as hot flushes and nausea. However, supporters of Neurostar said because it`s a targeted therapy it only causes mild scalp pain.
After five weeks of NeuroStar treatment, the percentage of patients reporting extreme problems with anxiety and depression decreased by 42.2 per cent.
A previous study had found that the therapy was twice as effective as a placebo in reducing depressive symptoms.
Dr H Brent Sovason from Stanford University, said: "These data reinforce the clinical efficacy of TMS Therapy as a viable option for patients living with major depression who have not achieved or maintained symptom improvement with oral antidepressants.
"The most meaningful takeaway for patients is that TMS Therapy has the potential to make them feel better, in addition to potentially allowing them to experience a level of physical and social functionality they haven`t had with their depression."
Depression affects one in four people at some point of their lives. Treatments for this condition involve either medication or talking treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy, or usually a combination of the two.