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Researchers test promising tech treatment for youth depression

by Pragati Singh

The outcomes of recent research on neurotechnological methods for treating teenage depression are encouraging. The study’s principal investigator, Faranak Farzan, a professor at Simon Fraser University (SFU), oversaw its publication in the Journal of Affective Disorders Reports.

The use of brain stimulation followed by a cognitive exercise to treat Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) in 26 teenagers was evaluated for its clinical and neurophysiological effects (aged 16 – 24 years old). Adult depression has previously been demonstrated to be quickly and effectively treated with theta-burst stimulation (TBS), a form of brain stimulation.

The prefrontal cortex of the brain is stimulated by magnetic pulses or bursts used in TBS. Many cognitive processes, including thinking, problem-solving, understanding, and impulse control, are controlled by this area of the brain. Additionally, it is a part of the brain that has been connected to MDD. For instance, prefrontal brain impairment has been connected to signs like rumination and suicide thoughts.

For four weeks, TBS was employed in this investigation to specifically target the prefrontal cortex in young volunteers. The researchers then saw and tracked alterations in brain activity using a multimodal brain mapping approach that combines electroencephalography and transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Depressive and rumination ratings decreased as a result of changes in brain activity.

We require more therapy options: According to Farzan, a professor at SFU’s School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering, “Major Depressive Disorder affects roughly 11% of teenagers and young adults, yet current therapies, such as medication and/or psychotherapy, fail to meaningfully relieve symptoms in about 30 to 50% of instances” (MSE). She is also the director of SFU’s brand-new eBrain Lab and holds the chair in technology innovations for youth addiction recovery and mental health.

Researchers point out that some drugs have also been linked to adverse consequences in children, including suicidal thoughts and behaviours, which has prompted the quest for less dangerous therapeutic choices.

Building on previous research: Previous research has shown a link between dysfunction of the prefrontal cortex and MDD. “Using TMS-EEG brain mapping technology, we also found that the prefrontal cortex in youth with MDD exhibited greater brain activity relative to healthy youth. It was very interesting to see in the current study that four weeks of TBS treatment seemed to reduce this excessive brain activity, possibly reflecting a return to a ‘healthy’ state,” says SFU doctoral student Prabhjot Dhami, the study’s first author.

Prefrontal cortex impairments in youth with MDD may also contribute to symptoms such as rumination and suicidal ideation/behaviour, Farzan notes. Since the prefrontal cortex is critical for executive functioning, dysfunction or deficits in this region can lead to the onset and maintenance of depressive symptoms.

The combination of prefrontal cortex-targeted TBS and a cognitive exercise that may potentially stimulate this brain region, according to the researchers, has the potential to maximise the prefrontal cortex’s influence on young people with MDD and more successfully reduce symptoms.

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