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A new type of brain stimulation device for combating difficult-to-treat cases of major depressive disorder is likely to break into the large American market soon. Its maker, Jerusalem-based Brainsway, plans to apply to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for permission to market the device this month. The move follows initial results from a large-scale trial of the system, in which 30.4 percent of treated patients went into remission and 36.7 percent showed significant improvement. Research into device-based treatments for psychiatric problems has grown rapidly, and if the FDA gives its go-ahead, Brainsway’s system will become the fourth device-based therapy to go on the market since 2005.
Deep transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), as its name suggests, uses magnetic fields to stimulate activity in structures deep in the brain. The patient wears a helmet in which powerful, specially designed electromagnets have been carefully positioned. When a pulse of electricity flows through the magnets’ coils, the resulting magnetic field induces current to flow through a portion of the brain.
There are subtle differences between deep TMS and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), a brain stimulation tool widely used in research and also marketed as a treatment for depression. The electromagnetic elements in deep TMS are designed to produce a magnetic field that reaches its greatest strength deep within the brain. Ordinarily, magnetic fields fall away quickly inside the brain, but the orientation and structure of the coils in deep TMS lessens that effect. “The concept was to reduce the rate of reduction of the magnetic field as a function of distance,” says Abraham Zangen, coinventor of the technology. In contrast, rTMS typically uses a single coil that produces a tightly focused field just a few centimeters below the brain’s surface.
Commonly prescribed anti-depressants appear to be doing patients more harm than good, say researchers who have published a paper examining the impact of the medications on the entire body.
“We need to be much more cautious about the widespread use of these drugs,” says Paul Andrews, an evolutionary biologist at McMaster University and lead author of the article, published today in the online journal Frontiers in Psychology.
“It’s important because millions of people are prescribed anti-depressants each year, and the conventional wisdom about these drugs is that they’re safe and effective.”
Andrews and his colleagues examined previous patient studies into the effects of anti-depressants and determined that the benefits of most anti-depressants, even taken at their best, compare poorly to the risks, which include premature death in elderly patients.
According to a recent study headed by scientists from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and the University of Granada, eating commercial baked goods (fairy cakes, croissants, doughnuts, etc.) and fast food (hamburgers, hotdogs and pizza) is linked to depression.
Published in the Public Health Nutrition journal, the results reveal that consumers of fast food, compared to those who eat little or none, are 51% more likely to develop depression.
Furthermore, a dose-response relationship was observed. In other words this means that “the more fast food you consume, the greater the risk of depression,” explains Almudena Sánchez-Villegas, lead author of the study, to SINC.
The study demonstrates that those participants who eat the most fast food and commercial baked goods are more likely to be single, less active and have poor dietary habits, which include eating less fruit, nuts, fish, vegetables and olive oil. Smoking and working more than 45 hours per week are other prevalent characteristics of this group.
The jury is still out, in many respects, on exactly what depression is and how it should be treated, but clinically speaking it is usually diagnosed in a psychological rather than a physiological manner—that is, via a questionnaire that is given to patients rather than by some method of empirical testing. But The Atlantic reports that a new study has shown that blood tests can diagnose depression—a finding that could change the way depression is both diagnosed and viewed by patients.
The finding, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, describes an experiment in which 36 adults with serious depression were given blood tests screening for nine biomarkers associated with the symptoms of depression. Forty-three non-depressive patients were also tested as a control. In the end, the blood test accurately indicated depression in 33 of 36 of the subjects with depression. It also registered eight false positives in the control group. The findings were repeated in a second experiment where blood tests went 31 for 34 in diagnosing depression among subjects.
The takeaway? The blood test method isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly interesting. With some tweaking doctors might be onto a proper clinical test for depression, but in the meantime one of the paper’s co-authors said at the very least establishing a physiological link to depression will hopefully get patients to look at their depression as a treatable condition rather than something that’s wrong with their minds. More at the Atlantic.
You can get the paper here, but you’ll have to bring your subscription to Molecular Psychiatry back into good standing.
New smartphone technology is in the works that should be able to tell whether a person is depressed.
The idea behind Mobilyze—under development by researchers at Northwestern University—is to create a virtual therapist to monitor a person’s activity over several days and then make a mood assessment.
“We’re trying to develop individual algorithms for each user that can determine specific states,” lead researcher and psychologist David Mohr said in an interview on WBBM radio in Chicago.
These algorithms would include people’s location, activity, social context, what they’re doing, and their mood, in order to determine whether they are behaving normally or if they seem depressed.
If the smartphone concludes that the person is depressed, it will help the individual alert family and friends. “It can provide them an automated text message, or an automated phone call to make a suggestion to give somebody a call or get out of the house,” Mohr said.
Mobilyze uses data from sensors already embedded in smartphones, such as GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and accelerometers. The goal is to use this data to develop an automated system to detect people’s moods, which could be helpful to those who are prone to ignoring symptoms of depression.
So far, Mohr has tested the smartphone on eight patients and says that it has helped in easing their depression. “They all had a major depressive disorder when they started, and they were all both clinically and statistically better at the end of the treatment,” he said.
This isn’t the only type of mobile technology geared toward health, human emotions, and mood. An app called MoodKit also uses cognitive-therapy techniques to improve people’s moods by offering more than 150 mood-lifting activities with tips and examples.
Mohr said he has plans to do more widespread testing this summer, so the Mobilyze technology is on the way.
Do you want to see what a 21st century economic depression looks like? Just look at Greece. Once upon a time, the Greek economy was thriving, the Greek government was borrowing money like there was no tomorrow and Greek citizens were thoroughly enjoying the bubble of false prosperity that all that debt created.
Those that warned that Greece was headed for a financial collapse were laughed at and were called “doom and gloomers”. Well, nobody is laughing now. You see, the truth is that debt is a very cruel master. Greeks were able to live way beyond their means for many, many years but eventually a day of reckoning arrived.
At this point, the Greek economy has been in a recession for five years in a row, and the economic crisis in that country is rapidly getting even worse. It was just recently announced that the overall rate of unemployment in Greece has soared above 20 percent and the youth unemployment rate has risen to an astounding 48 percent. One out of every five retail stores has been shut down and parents are literally abandoning children in the streets. The frightening thing is that this is just the beginning. Things are going to get a lot worse in Greece. And in case you haven’t been paying attention, these kinds of conditions are coming to the United States as well. We are heading down the exact same road as Greece went down, and the economic pain that this country is eventually going to suffer is going to be beyond anything that most Americans would dare to imagine.