Ninety patients with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder will be among those to test the new treatment. Picture: File image/Istock
Ninety patients with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder will be among those to test the new treatment. Picture: File image/Istock

Brain stimulation hope for depression, Alzheimer’s patients

BRAIN stimulation helmets that are worn at home to kickstart brain cells, and individual brain scans to map personalised magnet therapy for hard to treat conditions, will be the centre piece of a new mental health service.

Epworth Health has opened the new Centre for Innovation in Mental Health, moving its Monash University psychiatry researchers to the Camberwell hospital.

It will bring the latest experimental treatments in mental health from the research lab, straight into the clinic.

Centre director Professor Paul Fitzgerald said given that a third of people with a mental health condition were resistant to current treatments, by locating the clinic and research in the one place they aimed to bring promising new therapies to patients sooner.

"The treatments we currently have just aren't good enough," Prof Fitzgerald said.

"There haven't been any fundamentally new drugs in this space for the past couple of decades.

"We think non-invasive brain stimulation is part of the answer and give options that are well tolerated, don't have long-term side effects or cause problems with withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking them."

Professor Paul Fitzgerald, director of the Epworth’s new Centre for Innovation in Mental Health, is working on new ways of treating common mental health problems.
Professor Paul Fitzgerald, director of the Epworth’s new Centre for Innovation in Mental Health, is working on new ways of treating common mental health problems.

One of the main research projects will be to increase the effectiveness of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, which has become an increasingly common inpatient treatment for depression.

Using an Australian-first technique, brain scans will be used to map the specific areas that need to be primed, to better dictate where the magnetic coils should be placed on the skull.

A new proof-of-concept will test this combination in 90 patients with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

The Epworth team is also developing a home-based, self-administered version of Transcranial Alternating Current Stimulation, where a weak electrical current is applied to the scalp at a particular frequency to regulate brain activity.

Prof Fitzgerald said both ends of the age spectrum were the first targets of this experimental treatment.

In older adults with mild Alzheimer's disease it will be tested for its potential to improve memory and thinking skills.

About 200 young people aged 16-30 years with depression will be recruited for another TACS study comparing the at-home use to placebo.

"We're just getting started, but we think it's a pathway to ultimately developing treatment options that are better than the one-size-fits-all approach that is common across all areas of psychiatry,' he said.

"If we can make this highly personalised, but also something that you can take home, we think it has the capacity to develop it into a type of intervention that could potentially be effective for hundreds of thousands of patients, rather than the smaller number that might access TMS as an inpatient."