Magnetic Seizure Therapy (MST) may be an effective treatment for the 30% of depression patients who do not receive benefits from conventional treatment.

The treatment was analyzed by a team of experts from the Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre (MAPrc). Their research was published in two leading journals: Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging and Depression and Anxiety.

Depressive disorders are very common and potentially disabling, said MAPrc Deputy Director Professor Paul Fitzgerald, study leader. He added that one fifth of all Australians are affected with depression at some time in their lives.

Professor Fitzgerald explained:

“Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) is one of the only established interventions for treatment resistant depression. But use of ECT is limited due to the presence of memory-related side effects and associated stigma.

This caused the MAPrc experts to start their observations on new treatment strategies. MST is a method that stimulates the brain that may have comparable outcomes to ECT, except with no unwanted reactions.

A previous report in Archives of General Psychiatry indicated that a treatment using magnetic currents to stimulate the brain induced remission in individuals with treatment-resistant depression.

Fitzgerald revealed:

“In MST, a seizure is induced through the use of magnetic stimulation rather than a direct electrical current like ECT. Magnetic fields are able to pass freely into the brain, making it possible to more precisely focus stimulation.”

MST will better alleviate symptoms of depression without the memory difficulties that people experience with ECT, by not using direct electrical currents and inducing a stimulation that is more focal.

This therapy is only accessible in a few locations worldwide, as the research has just only begun. In Australia, the MAPrc is the only centre where trials are being conducted.

Results from the study showed that MST led to a remarkable decrease in depression symptoms:

  • 40% of subjects showed overall improvement
  • 30% of subjects showed some improvement

The patients did not report any cognitive side effects from this therapy.

“MST shows antidepressant efficacy without apparent cognitive side effects.” Fitzgerald said.

However, further trials need to be conducted in order to have better insight on the best conditions for stimulation, as well as to compare MST to already existing treatments, such as ECT.

Large-scale randomized controlled trials are necessary to correctly assess the differences between MST and ECT. A substantial amount of research needs to be carried out before official statements can be made about the effectiveness of this therapy.

Funding from beyondblue and the NHMRC has been given to Professor Fitzgerald and his colleagues to conduct a large-scale trial on MST as a potential treatment for depression.

Written by Sarah Glynn