Experimental Study Using Magnets May
Help Reduce Depression in Patients with Parkinson's Disease
Patients with Parkinson's disease, who suffer from severe
depression in the course of the disease, may soon be able to lighten
their mood through an experimental study at Emory University. Charles
Epstein, M.D., associate professor of neurology, Emory University School
of Medicine, and colleagues are exploring an alternative to drug therapy
- an alternative that consists of stimulating the brain with electrically
powered magnets. The process is known as repetitive transcranial magnetic
stimulation (TMS). Researchers hope TMS can improve the moods of certain
patients with Parkinson's disease and bring them out of their depressive
"Ten to fifteen percent of Parkinson's disease patients suffer from
depression at any time," according to Dr. Epstein, who serves as principal
investigator of the study. "Our goal is to help reduce or relieve this
depression during a two-week study period."
The trial is the first of three new studies in the Emory University
Center for Research on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)
in Neurodegenerative Diseases. The National Center for Complementary
and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health recently
awarded Emory a five-year grant for the Center and three individual
research grants totaling $5.7 million.
In the TMS study, researchers place an electrically powered magnet
over the left frontal region of the participant's head for 20 minutes
twice a day. When stimulated, that portion of the brain is believed
to improve mood in depressed patients. Participants undergo the therapy
for two consecutive weeks. During the trial period, participants are
hospitalized in the General Clinical Research Center in Emory University
Hospital. "Because Parkinson's patients have difficulties with mobility,
we feel their stay is necessary since therapy is required twice a day,"
says Dr. Epstein. "Also, participants are taken off some of their medications
during part of the study. So we want to make sure they receive top supervision
from our staff."
In similar magnetic stimulation studies, researchers have seen positive
results in as little as several days to several weeks. After a series
of treatments, patients have shown improvement in depression for as
long as two months.
"The current option for Parkinson's patients who aren't responding
to drug therapy is electroconvulsive shock therapy (EST), which is an
invasive procedure," says Mahlon DeLong, M.D., co-principal investigator
of the CAM Center study and professor and chairman of neurology, Emory
University School of Medicine. "EST requires general anesthesia, brings
on a seizure in the patient and may cause side effects, such as memory
loss and other cognitive function impairments. Should transcranial magnetic
stimulation prove effective in this trial, it could relieve depression
in Parkinson's patients with little to no side effects."
Transcranial magnetic stimulation has not been approved by the Food
and Drug Administration (FDA). Its use now is in a study setting only.
Participants are still being recruited for this alternative study. They
must have Parkinson's disease, have such severe depression that electroconvulsive
shock therapy is considered a treatment option, must be 40 to 90 years
of age, must be willing to stay at the testing site for two weeks and
must be willing to omit certain medications during part of the trial.
Extensive testing will be performed before and after the two-week session.
To participate in this study, call (404) 321- 6111, extension 7099.
Participants are also being recruited for two other studies in Emory's
CAM Center. The studies involve the use of Valerian root to treat sleep
disturbances in patients with Parkinson's disease and the effect of
Chinese mind-body modalities of Tai Chi and Qi Gong on motor disabilities
associated with Parkinson's disease.
Media Note: Emory's CAM Center in Neurodegenerative Diseases is not
an information or referral center. For more information on the CAM Center,
call Rebecca Portman, administrator for Emory's CAM Center in Neurodegenerative
Diseases, at (404) 727-3251. The Center offers postdoctoral fellowships,
as well as funding for pilot/feasibility studies, for those interested
in CAM in neurodegenerative disease.