Non-surgical neuromodulation is effective against depression and can slow the effects of neurodegenerative diseases

Non-surgical neuromodulation is effective against depression and can slow the effects of neurodegenerative diseases

A trained person places two electrodes, anode and cathode, on the head of another person. The anode is placed on one side of the head. Cathode, in front, on the other side. Using a small machine, slightly larger than a mobile phone, a very low intensity electrical current is generated that flows between both electrodes. This action increases the activity of neurons located under the anode, which are less active in diseases such as depression or Alzheimer’s disease. This is how it works as an innovative and promising therapeutic tool for the treatment of psychiatric and neurological diseases, as it can facilitate better and faster recovery in cases of depression, anxiety or stroke, or slow down the irreversible cognitive decline experienced by, for example, people with Alzheimer’s disease.

This technique is transcranial electrical stimulation. This procedure and transcranial magnetic stimulation, which has similar effects, are the two most widely used methods of non-surgical neuromodulation. Researchers at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) want to promote the use of these technologies in clinical practice, which is why they have created a subsidiary or derivative of the UNNE Neurostimulation Institute, a final project of SpinUOC 2024, a university entrepreneurship program that will celebrate its final day on the 27th. June, which is open to the public, to announce eight innovative projects.

Although clinical research focusing on the effectiveness of non-surgical neuromodulation has not made as much progress as other areas of knowledge, the results are promising and show clinical improvements in various diseases. In addition, as UNNE officials stress, these are not isolated treatments. It should be combined with other treatments currently known to be effective for each disease, such as cognitive stimulation, pharmacotherapy, speech therapy, physical activity or nutrition. This ability to integrate with other interventions is another great advantage of these technologies, which the offering applies in the clinical services it implements in collaboration with the Madrid Hospital HLA Universitario Moncloa, where it is physically located.

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Effective against depression, which is the most common mental illness

According to the Health Education Foundation – based on the 2021 report of the Medicines and Health Products Foundation – about three million people have been diagnosed with depression in Spain, which is the most common mental illness in the country.

In people with drug-resistant depression, both magnetic stimulation and transcranial electrical stimulation have been shown to be very effective. “In depression, as in Alzheimer’s disease, there is an important area of ​​the brain that is hypoactive—that is, characterized by a lack of activity. This is the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which we can define as the human brain’s wiring. Increasing its activation has been shown to improve Symptoms “The transition from one disease to another is very clear,” explains Elena Muñoz Marrón, a clinical neuropsychologist and co-principal investigator in the Cognitive Neuroscience Group and the Applied Data Science Laboratory (NeuroADaS Lab) at the Center for e-Health and Professor of Science Studies at the University of California. California Health. In fact, the professor points out that the use of this technique to treat depression has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States and the European Union.

Twenty minutes a day delays the effects of Alzheimer’s

In relation to Alzheimer’s disease, studies have been published in leading scientific journals on the use of non-surgical neuromodulation, such as in 2022 in the Journal of Clinical Neuroscience or in 2020 in Clinical and Experimental Aging Research. According to data from the Spanish Society of Neurology, this disease affects more than 800,000 people in Spain. “Moreover, if we add those with other dementias and caregivers, it affects about three million people,” estimates Juan Luis García Fernández, a team member and clinical neuropsychologist at the Association of Family Members of People with Alzheimer’s and Types of Alzheimer’s Disease. Other Dementias in Barcelona (AFAB). ).

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In the case of this neurological disease, the protocol used by specialists in the occasional work of UOC consists, in the first phase, of twenty daily sessions of twenty minutes each, from Monday to Friday, for four weeks. “Like all interventions in these diseases, the sooner we do this, the better. And in severely impaired Alzheimer’s patients, this doesn’t work, because brain plasticity needs to be preserved to some extent; On the job,” explains Muñoz Marrón.

“This technique keeps the neurons more active. Using the analogy with the body, when you go to the gym every day and suddenly stop, when you come back, it becomes harder to exercise. “What we are looking for is to make it easier for the brain to become more active again.” Others after losing activity,” explains Dr. Garcia Fernandez.

Training health workers, providing advice to centers and treating patients

“Our company represents the transfer of research into clinical practice,” explains Elena Muñoz. “By creating this demonstration, we want to give impetus to these techniques, which have the most scientific evidence among non-invasive neuromodulation techniques. And with what we know thanks to research, it can actually reach society. In turn, by applying it to a number of Larger than in people, we will be able to do more research on its effectiveness. “We are looking for this ‘snowball’ effect,” the researcher explains.

“Improving motor and cognitive limitations after a stroke, helping to overcome depression or anxiety, or slowing cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease has a significant impact on the quality of life of many people who can benefit from these technologies. And not just for them, but Also for their environment and their caregivers, because it improves and prolongs the independence of people affected, in the case of Alzheimer’s disease, by a disease for which there is not yet a cure,” points out Juan Luis García.

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The UNNE Neurostimulation Institute will focus on the following three areas: training healthcare professionals interested in applying non-invasive neuromodulation techniques in their profession; Providing advice and counsel to centers that wish to integrate these technologies into their range of services, and facilitating personalized treatments for patients.

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