University of Arizona researchers have developed a new way to boost mood by applying ultrasound vibrations to the brain. The technique, detailed in the journal Brain Stimulation
, could potentially lead to new drug-free treatments for depression, anxiety, and other psychological and psychiatric disorders.
Lead researcher Stuart Hameroff, M.D., professor emeritus of the UA's departments of anesthesiology and psychology, said his work was inspired by studies showing physiological and behavioral effects in animals treated with ultrasound waves applied to the brain.
"I said to my anesthesiology colleagues, 'We should try this on chronic pain patient volunteers,' " he said.
Dr. Hameroff first tried the technique himself, administering ultrasound for 15 seconds to his own scalp. Initially, he said he felt no effect.
"I put it down and said, 'Well, that's not going to work,' " he said. "And then about a minute later I started to feel like I'd had a martini."
Dr. Hameroff and his colleagues then tested the ultrasound technique on 31 chronic pain patients at the University of Arizona Medical Center-South Campus. Patients reported improvements in mood for up to 40 minutes following treatment with brain ultrasound.
"This was a pilot study that showed safety, and some efficacy, for clinical use of [ultrasound]," Dr. Hameroff said. "We frequently use ultrasound in the operating room for imaging. It's safe as long as you avoid excessive exposure and heating."
Jay Sanguinetti, a doctoral candidate in the department of psychology, suggests ultrasound may trigger brain cells to function better.
"What we think is happening is that the ultrasound is making the neurons a little bit more likely to fire in the parts of the brain involved with mood," thus stimulating the brain's electrical activity and possibly leading to a change in how patients feel, Sanguinetti said.
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