‘Pacemakers for brain’ offer new treatment options for depression at N.J. center

    A new University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey center in Cherry Hill offers a slew of cutting-edge options for people with depression and anxiety who have not responded to medications, or can’t tolerate the side effects.

    At the Center for Mood Disorders and Neuromodulation Therapies, psychiatrist John O’Reardon reclined on a comfy chair to test a transcranial magnetic stimulation machine. When a patient is in the chair, a wand hovers close to their head and delivers weak electric currents to jolt specific regions of the brain into action.

    The center specializes in different forms of brain stimulation techniques, which director O’Reardon likens to advances in another medical field.

    “This is the same as cardiology … cardiology had medications, but they didn’t have pacemakers or stents,” explained O’Reardon. “Once they had devices for the heart, they advanced greatly. These are devices for the brain — they are pacemakers for the brain.”

    Different types of brain stimulation, under study since the mid-’90s, have shown strong results in treating those with severe depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder. TMS, which as been approved by the Food and Drug Adminstration, is covered by Medicare and some insurance companies.

    These treatments have a major advantage compared with medications; they have no side effects.

    “The brain is like a large soup the medications go into, and they go everywhere and they give you side effects,” O’Reardon said. “Here, we are targeting just 1 centimeter on the cortex.”

    In addition to offering a variety of brain stimulation treatments, the center also will conduct research studies.

    O’Reardon is currently testing the effectiveness of an at-home device for TMS called Synchronized TMS. A patient comes in for an EEG; the levels on the device are set accordingly; then the patient takes it home and comes back for monitoring, he explained. O’Reardon says that trial will be complete in three months.

    The center also offers a treatment called transcranial direct current stimulation or tDCS, which has shown promising results in several research studies.

    Going forward, O’Reardon said, these new approaches will become more widely available to people suffering from mental illness. “The hope is to have a suite of devices, and that everybody can get better,” he said.

    The center at 2250 Chapel Ave. West, Cherry Hill, will host an open house Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal