BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is the first medical provider in the state to offer a new, cutting-edge treatment for depression. Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, or rTMS, is the first and only device of its kind to be cleared for the treatment of depression by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The non-invasive device delivers highly focused, MRI-strength magnetic pulses to a particular area of the brain that is linked to depression. It is indicated for patients with depression who have failed to achieve satisfactory improvement from prior antidepressant medication.
“rTMS uses a series of strong, focused magnetic pulses to stimulate a part of the brain called the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex,” said Bates Redwine, M.D., assistant professor in the UAB Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology. “This part of the brain is known to have decreased activity in depressed patients.”
“The magnetic pulses pass through the scalp and skull to the brain, where they cause these brain cells to activate,” he said. “Repeated stimulation over a series of weeks causes sustained activation of this specific area of the brain that results in significant improvements in depressive symptoms.”
Redwine says the procedure takes about 40 minutes. Patients come five days a week for therapy, and results usually are evident within four to six weeks. The device consists of a chair with the magnetic stimulator attached to a flexible arm.
“Patients sit in the chair with the magnet positioned in the appropriate spot, where it delivers the focused magnetic pulse,” Redwine said. “Patients will hear a clicking sound while the device is pulsing, but there are no significant side-effects. Most patients watch TV or even nap during the procedure.”
Redwine says clinical trials of the rTMS system, which is produced by NeuroStar®, show that more than half of patients treated had significant improvement in symptoms of depression and a third had complete remission of all symptoms.
“We know that more than 30 percent of patients with depression do not benefit from and/or are intolerant of antidepressant medications,” Redwine said. “It’s gratifying to have a new tool that we can offer to patients that has demonstrated an impressive success rate.”
The therapy is not covered by many health insurance plans, although there is movement under way with the insurance industry to provide coverage. Redwine said that in the long run, use of the rTMS system may prove to be more economical than current approaches to treating depression.
For more information about rTMS therapy at UAB, call 205-996-7431.
About the UAB Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology
The UAB Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology provides a broad spectrum of psychiatric services in child/adolescent psychiatry, adult psychiatry, geriatric psychiatry and a high quality addiction recovery program.