There are implantable devices out there that are very effective at treating depression in a lot of patients. These look like pacemakers and they have electrical leads stretching out, usually, to the vagus nerve, and there are transcranial direct stimulation devices with electrodes placed directly onto the brain. Of course implants have a whole host of consequences, including a limited battery lifetime, a chance that the therapy won’t work and explantation will be required, as well as potentially limited ability to receive MRI scans.

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Researchers at the University of North Carolina have been testing a new approach, called transcranial alternating current brain stimulation (tACS), to hopefully be able to offer a different, non-invasive option.

The technology relies on an electrode headset that looks like an EEG cap, but instead of listening for faint brain signals, it delivers weak alternating current pulses in a very targeted way toward a specific location within the brain.

In a study on 32 individuals, 70 percent of those that received the therapy saw “marked” improvement in their depression symptoms. This is still an early and very limited clinical study, which will help the researchers to optimize their stimulation protocol and better target the disease.

Future, more extensive studies will be required to really prove the efficacy of this technology and better figure out what kinds of patients are best suited for it.

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