Summary: SAINT, a new intensive and individualized form of transcranial magnetic stimulation reduces symptoms of depression within days of treatment. 80% of the people administered SAINT reported remission from depression symptoms that lasted for months following treatment.
A new type of magnetic brain stimulation brought rapid remission to almost 80% of participants with severe depression in a study conducted at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
The treatment, known as Stanford accelerated intelligent neuromodulation therapy (SAINT) or simply Stanford neuromodulation therapy, is an intensive, individualized form of transcranial magnetic stimulation. In the study, remission typically occurred within days and lasted months. The only side effects were temporary fatigue and headaches.
“It works well, it works quickly and it’s noninvasive,” said Nolan Williams, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. “It could be a game changer.” Williams is the senior author of the study, which was published Oct. 29 in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
Twenty-nine people with treatment-resistant depression participated in the study: About half received SAINT, and the rest underwent a placebo procedure that mimicked the real treatment. After five days of treatment, 78.6% of the participants in the treatment group were no longer depressed, according to several standard methods of evaluation. “It’s quite a dramatic effect, and it’s quite sustained,” said Alan Schatzberg, MD, the Kenneth T. Norris, Jr. Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, who was a co-author of the study.
A lifetime of depression
Tommy Van Brocklin, 60, has suffered from depression since he was 15. “In 1975, they didn’t have the medication and understanding they do now,” he said. “I was told I wasn’t trying hard enough.”
“I’ve functioned all these years, but it’s been very difficult at times,” the civil engineer added. Talk therapy helped “for about half a day after an appointment.” When selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors became available in the 1990s, he started on paroxetine, commonly sold under the brand name Paxil.
“It worked like a miracle drug,” he said, but after 10 or 15 years it started to lose its effect. After 25 years, it stopped working entirely. He tried other medications, but none helped; one even made him suicidal.
His sister, who lives near Stanford, connected him with the researchers studying SAINT. He flew from his home in Memphis, Tennessee, and underwent the treatment in September. He felt nothing the first day; on day two, he began feeling emotional—”I felt the struggle of what I’d been through all these years.”
“The next day, all of a sudden, it broke through,” he said. “I felt so much better, and it’s stuck with me.”
Specialized magnetic stimulation
The transcranial magnetic stimulation treatment currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration requires six weeks of once-daily sessions. Only about half of patients who undergo the treatment improve, and only about a third experience remission from depression.
SAINT advances that treatment by targeting the magnetic pulses according to each patient’s neurocircuitry and providing a greater number of pulses at a faster pace.
In the study, the researchers first used MRI to locate the best location to target within each participant’s dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which regulates executive functions, such as problem solving and inhibiting unwanted responses.
They applied the stimulation in a subregion that has the strongest relationship with the subgenual cingulate, a part of the brain that is overactive in people experiencing depression. The transcranial magnetic stimulation strengthens the connection between the two regions, facilitating dorsolateral prefrontal cortex control of the activity in the subgenual cingulate.
The researchers also used 1,800 pulses per session instead of 600. (The larger amount has been used safely in other forms of brain stimulation for neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.) And instead of providing one treatment a day, they gave participants 10 10-minute treatments, with 50-minute breaks in between.
For the control group, the researchers disguised the treatment with a magnetic coil that mimicked the experience of the magnetic pulse; both the control and active treatment groups wore noise-canceling earphones and received a topical ointment to dull sensation. Neither the researcher administering the procedure nor the participant knew whether the participant was receiving real treatment.
A hard-to-treat group
The trial participants ranged in age from 22 to 80; on average, they had suffered depression for nine years. They had tried medications, but either they had had no effect or they had stopped working. During the trial, participants who were on medication maintained their regular dosage; participants who weren’t taking medications did not start any.
Within four weeks after treatment, 12 of the 14 participants who had received the treatment improved, and 11 of them met FDA criteria for remission. In contrast, only two of the 15 participants who had received the placebo met the criteria for remission.
Because the study participants typically felt better within days of starting SAINT, the researchers are hoping it can be used to quickly treat patients who are at a crisis point. Patients who start taking medication for depression typically don’t experience any reduction of symptoms for a month.
“We want to get this into emergency departments and psychiatric wards where we can treat people who are in a psychiatric emergency,” Williams said. “The period right after hospitalization is when there’s the highest risk of suicide.”
Van Brocklin said that since he returned home following treatment, he’s made some radical changes. “I have a really strong desire to get my life together,” he said.
“I don’t procrastinate anymore,” he added. “I’m sleeping better. I completely quit alcohol. I’m walking my dog and playing the guitar again, for nothing more than the sheer joy of it.”
Most importantly, he said, “I’m remaining positive and being respectful of others. These are big changes in my life.”
About this depression research news
Author: Mandy Erickson Source: Stanford Contact: Mandy Erickson – Stanford Image: The image is in the public domain
Stanford Neuromodulation Therapy (SNT): A Double-Blind Randomized Controlled Trial
Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and half of patients with depression have treatment-resistant depression. Intermittent theta-burst stimulation (iTBS) is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of treatment-resistant depression but is limited by suboptimal efficacy and a 6-week duration. The authors addressed these limitations by developing a neuroscience-informed accelerated iTBS protocol, Stanford neuromodulation therapy (SNT; previously referred to as Stanford accelerated intelligent neuromodulation therapy, or SAINT). This protocol was associated with a remission rate of ∼90% after 5 days of open-label treatment. Here, the authors report the results of a sham-controlled double-blind trial of SNT for treatment-resistant depression.
Participants with treatment-resistant depression currently experiencing moderate to severe depressive episodes were randomly assigned to receive active or sham SNT. Resting-state functional MRI was used to individually target the region of the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex most functionally anticorrelated with the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex. The primary outcome was score on the Montgomery-Åsberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS) 4 weeks after treatment.
At the planned interim analysis, 32 participants with treatment-resistant depression had been enrolled, and 29 participants who continued to meet inclusion criteria received either active (N=14) or sham (N=15) SNT. The mean percent reduction from baseline in MADRS score 4 weeks after treatment was 52.5% in the active treatment group and 11.1% in the sham treatment group.
SNT, a high-dose iTBS protocol with functional-connectivity-guided targeting, was more effective than sham stimulation for treatment-resistant depression. Further trials are needed to determine SNT’s durability and to compare it with other treatments.