Depression Meets the Magnet Cure.

WebMD reports on the first clinical application for using really big magnets to zap depressed people’s brain waves:

The clearance comes nearly two years after a January 2007 FDA advisory panel said clinical trials failed to establish that the device was clinically effective. Although TMS-treated patients were twice as likely as sham-treated patients to show clinical benefit, some panel members said this effect was “small,” “borderline,” “marginal,” and “of questionable clinical significance.”

And TMS truly is different from ECT, says psychiatry professor Michael Thase, MD, chief of the mood and anxiety disorders program at the University of Pennsylvania. Thase has served as a consultant to NeuroStar maker Neuronetics Inc. On the company’s behalf, he presented NeuroStar clinical trial data to the 2007 FDA advisory committee.

“TMS is in no way equivalent to ECT in terms of efficacy nor in terms of safety. TMS is less effective but substantially safer than ECT,” Thase tells WebMD.

There are important differences between the two treatments:

* ECT, also known as electroshock therapy, uses an electric shock to induce seizure. TMS uses a magnetic field to induce a much smaller electric current in a specific part of the brain without causing seizure or loss of consciousness.
* ECT is extremely effective in treating severe depression. TMS is not so powerful. It is used to treat milder depression, and it works best in patients who have failed to benefit from one, but not two or more, antidepressant treatments.

There’ve been experiments on this technology for a few years now, so it’s about time something came to market… or was conclusively proved to be hooey. You can read the press release here or more about Neuronetics on their page, which also features pictures of what looks like a dentist’s chair with a brain irradiator attached to it.