Belmont, MA – McLean Hospital, the largest psychiatric affiliate of Harvard Medical School, now offers a new, non-invasive treatment for moderate and severe depression called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), the hospital announced today. The procedure is being provided as part of a new Psychiatric Neurotherapeutics Program (PNP) at McLean that includes electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), a clinical service offered to hospital patients for decades.
TMS, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2008 after more than 10 years of clinical investigation, is a form of neuromodulation that stimulates nerve cells in an area of the brain linked to depression, by delivering highly focused MRI-strength magnetic pulses. The first McLean patient to use TMS was treated in late September, according to Stephen Seiner, MD, director of McLean’s ECT Service and the new director of the PNP.
TMS is primarily for people who have not experienced relief from depression through the use of antidepressant medications. “It is best used for people who don’t tolerate medicines well or who have not done well with medications and are not candidates for ECT,” explains Seiner. While TMS does not seem to be as effective as ECT in treating depression, he added, the procedure is easier to tolerate.
Patients undergo treatment five days a week for four to six weeks. Each treatment lasts 37 minutes and requires no anesthesia. Side effects are mild and may include headache or scalp discomfort. TMS has not been found to affect memory or cognition, which, which makes it a particularly attractive option.
According to Oscar Morales, MD, director of the TMS Service and associate director of PNP, during a TMS treatment, a patient sits in a comfortable reclining chair while a magnetic coil is gently placed on one side of his or her scalp. The magnetic fields penetrate approximately two to three centimeters beneath the coil directly into the brain to produce electrical currents.
“These currents activate cells within the brain that are thought to release neurotransmitters, which play a role in mood regulation,” explains Morales. “Since depression is believed to be caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, TMS helps restore balance and relieve the symptoms of depression.”
According to Morales, who helped conduct clinical trials of TMS at Columbia University, more than 10,000 procedures were safely performed before TMS was approved by the FDA.
“TMS has been shown to be an extremely safe treatment for depression, with far fewer side effects than antidepressant medications,” said Morales. “It is exciting to add this new tool to the list of treatment options that we can offer to our patients at McLean.”
McLean Hospital is the largest psychiatric facility of Harvard Medical School, an affiliate of Massachusetts General Hospital and a member of Partners HealthCare. For more information about McLean Hospital, visit www.mclean.harvard.edu.