Cerebrum Winter 2022

ADVANCES Notable brain-science findings


I n 2020, researchers found great success in treating nearly two dozen people who had INTRACTABLE DEPRESSION by using a five-day, intensive course of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) called Stanford Neuromodulation Therapy (SNT). That study was “open label,” which means doctors and patients knew they were getting the experimental treatment. Now the researchers have repeated the procedure as a randomized, controlled test, with some patients receiving the treatment and some receiving something that looked just like it (holding a figure-8 shaped handset close to their heads) but did not send the signal; neither they nor their doctors knew who was getting what. Patients received ten treatment sessions per day for five days. Many patients reported their mood lifting within days, and within a month of treatment, 79 percent of the patients no longer scored as clinically depressed. Current TMS methods use lower magnetic intensity, are given once daily, and go on for six weeks; they show far less success than the new method but also do not require that patients stay in a hospital or treatment center for the course of their treatment. If this method continues to shine in clinical studies, it will be especially useful for emergency care. l

People with serious mental illness represent a quarter of all police shootings and account for more than two million jail bookings a year. Margaret E. Balfour, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues recently published a paper that addresses the composition of response teams, the need for collaboration across systems, and offers an alternative to the current 911 number. The alternative, 988, would offer a new number to call in the event of mental health emergencies. The approach would dispatch a team of using some combination of nurses, social workers, EMTs, and behavioral health technicians, rather than armed police officers in a patrol car. l

Researchers have found evidence that there may be a “critical window” for recovering motor skills after a person has had a STROKE . In a randomized, controlled study of 72 older people (83

percent African American, 50 percent women), those who added 20 hours a week of specific motor-skills training to the usual therapies at 2-3 months after their stroke showed a significant increase in motor function compared with controls (who were doing just the usual therapies). Those who did the additional training in the first month after stroke and then stopped also showed significant improvement over controls, but not as much as the 2-3-month group. Those who started the additional training at 6 months or more post-stroke looked like the control group. This matches what other researchers have learned from animal studies and suggests that the increased neural plasticity seen in post-injury brains behaves in some ways like the plasticity in childhood, which also has sensitive periods. l

Nolan Williams demonstrating their SNT treatment on an unnamed patient.


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