CONTACT: BECKY SOGLIN
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-6660; fax (319) 384-4638
Release: Oct. 31, 2001
UI researchers receive $2.3 grant to study depression treatment
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa Health Care researchers have received
a five-year, $2.3 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health
to investigate an experimental new treatment for geriatric depression associated
with abnormal blood flow of the brain.
The study is the first to investigate transcranial magnetic stimulation for
older patients who have not responded to usual methods for treating vascular
depression. This type of depression generally occurs in the elderly and is
characterized by loss of blood flow to small areas of the brain. The blood
loss is similar to what happens when a person has a stroke. However, people
with vascular depression often do not have the physical or cognitive symptoms
that usually accompany known strokes.
"Other investigators are using transcranial magnetic stimulation for
patients with depression but not in older patients who have depression that
seems to be related to a loss of blood supply to the brain," said Robert
G. Robinson, M.D., the Paul W. Penningroth Chair and Head of Psychiatry. "We
will study the effectiveness of magnetic stimulation for people for whom conventional
treatments such as psychotherapeutic treatment, behavior therapy or drug therapy
have not worked." Robinson is the study's principal investigator.
The UI team expects to recruit up to 140 patients for the study. Recruitment
will begin later this year.
People with vascular depression usually have never had a depression before
age 55 or a family history of depression. People with the condition may lose
their drive or motivation, feel hopeless, have difficulty sleeping and making
decisions, or lose weight.
"We think the depression is caused by loss of blood supply to a particular
area of the brain," Robinson said. "It's not related to genetics
or to a particular stressful event in a patient's life. It's related to brain
injury that changes the chemistry and circuitry of the brain."
The treatment involves using magnets to produce minor electrical stimulation
of the frontal lobes of the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that deals
with thinking and reasoning as well as mood and emotion.
A figure-eight-shaped coil is placed against the skull, and an electrical
current is run through the coil, creating a magnetic field. The shape of the
coil focuses the field so that a small, painless electrical current is created
in the brain. Unlike other treatments, no anesthesia is needed, and there
is no discomfort or memory loss for the patient.
Robinson said he and other investigators who are using this new technique
hope that it ultimately will be a replacement for eletroconvulsive therapy
(ECT), which requires a patient to undergo anesthesia, to sustain a seizure
and to have some temporary memory loss.
"We became interested in transcranial magnetic stimulation because it
has such potential for treating depression that has not responded to other
methods, and it seems to treat depression but without the negative effects
associated with ECT," Robinson said.
A UI pilot project demonstrated that transcranial magnetic stimulation is
very effective for elderly patients with stroke or other obvious kinds of
vascular injury who had not responded to other treatments. For more than 25
years, Robinson has led studies on geriatric patients with depression caused
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