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Electrical brain stimulation could treat depression and anxiety, UC researchers say

woman sitting holding her face in her hands

A practice commonly used to treat Parkinson's disease and epilepsy may be able to treat mental health disorders like depression and anxiety, according to University of Cincinnati researchers.

"There is evidence that if you apply electrical stimulation at the right target, at the right time, that you can actually kind of rewire the brain," says Ishita Basu, research assistant professor of neurosurgery .

Mental health conditions like depression and anxiety are caused by a dysfunction in the part of the brain that controls cognitive function. Basu's research focuses on the study of cognitive control and underlying brain circuits.

She says the electrical energy is not at all like electroconvulsive therapy, which stimulates the entirety of the brain.

"What I'm talking about is more subtle stimulation to nudge the brain in a therapeutic direction," she explained.

It's not a one-size-fits-all treatment. More research has to be done on how to customize it to accommodate the needs of each patient. And it would only be prescribed as a "sort of last resort" for people who don't respond well to medication.

Basu says plans are still being made to find out how to deliver the treatment in a non-invasive way that makes it more accessible to people.

For instance, the treatment could be given to people through a brain implant that requires surgery to insert. But it'd be more ideal to have people undergo outpatient treatment, which would give patients the chance to get occasional sessions with a physician or at a hospital.

The treatment has not rolled out yet — Basu is currently recruiting epilepsy patients for a follow-up study. She plans to analyze brain signaling and its response to brain stimulation to create a predictive model.

The University of Cincinnati is a financial supporter of Cincinnati Public Radio. The journalism produced at the station remains independent.

Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.