What is Brain Stimulation?
Deep brain stimulation as a viable treatment for mental illnesses has existed as a last-resort surgical procedure associated with substantial cost and risk. These stimulation procedures apply electricity to the brain via implanted electrodes, overriding undesired brain activity by “jamming” diseased communication between brain cells. However, UNC investigator Flavio Frohlich stresses that deep brain stimulation treatments do not reflect our current understanding of the brain’s electrical circuits.
What is the Purpose of Studying Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation?
Current treatment of mental illnesses remains a huge challenge to patients and their loved ones. Side effects from medication can often be severe, and it may take months of trial-and-error to determine what method of medication works for individual patients. Frohlich’s approach to treatment goes directly to the root of the disorder: the brain itself. Understanding how the brain’s electrical signals work, Frohlich believes, is crucial to the treatment of mental illness. And by targeting the very brain systems that trigger disorders, he may be at the forefront of developing a gentle, yet very effective, alternative for treating mental illnesses.
In Frohlich’s study, an animal model is used to develop and evaluate safe, non-invasive brain stimulation that alters brain activity in a beneficial way, adapting to ongoing brain activity. Unlike deep brain stimulation, Frohlich’s stimulation model communicates and coordinates with the brain’s electric signals instead of attempting to override them.
How Can Brain Stimulation Treat Mental Illness?
Dr. Frohlich believes that his work will ultimately enable preclinical trials with human patients with a range of psychiatric diagnosis including schizophrenia, autism, and depression. In fact, two early control studies in healthy humans are already underway.
The Foundation of Hope’s $40,000 grant for Frohlich’s non-invasive brain stimulation study has so far culminated in $2,250,000 of funding from the National Institute of Health. Dr. Frohlich has published numerous articles on his team’s findings, and documents his team’s research on his website, frohlichlab.org.
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