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September 13, 2004

Penn Researchers Investigate
Potential New Treatment for Depression

Non-Medication Therapy Offers Alternative
for Treatment-Resistant Patients

(Philadelphia, PA) -- Statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimate that 18.8 million Americans suffer from depressive illnesses each year. Most are helped through the use of antidepressant medication. But a growing number of patients -- estimated to be between 10 and 15 percent -- remain chronically depressed even after taking several different types of antidepressants. For these patients, a new therapy, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), can provide a non-medication alternative treatment.

The Laboratory for Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation at the University of Pennsylvania Health System is one of 16 centers nationwide conducting clinical trials to evaluate TMS as a potential treatment for depression. In announcing the trial, John O'Reardon, MD, principal investigator, said, "We are excited to be participating in this landmark research for a new antidepressant. If proven effective, TMS could signal a radical shift in our approach to treating major depression."

TMS is a non-invasive procedure administered in an outpatient setting, and requires no anesthesia. The patient is fully awake and reclines in a chair throughout the 45-minute session. (Click on thumbnail to view full-size image). During the treatment, short pulses of magnetic energy -- much like those used in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology -- stimulate the neurons in the left prefrontal cortex of the brain -- the area that scientists believe is involved in regulating mood. "The amount of energy delivered to the brain is very small and very focused," O'Reardon said. Both prior to and directly after the procedure, the patient is able to carry on normal activities.

TMS has been used for 20 years to study human nerve fibers that carry information about movement from the brain to the spinal cord and muscles. Currently, there are over 2,000 TMS devices being used worldwide, to investigate several neurological functions, including attention, memory, movement, speech, and vision. TMS is already used to treat patients with depression in Canada and Israel, and smaller preliminary studies in this country have encouraged researchers that TMS may produce an antidepressant effect.

Volunteers interested in participating in the six-week Penn TMS study are invited to call 1-800-345-8707 for more information.

Participants must be:

  • Between 18 and 70 years old.
  • Suffering from a major depressive disorder.
  • Able to provide written documentation that they have been treated unsuccessfully with antidepressant medication.

Please Note: Patients diagnosed with bipolar illness (manic depression) or obsessive- compulsive disorder are not eligible to participate in this trial.

The trial is sponsored by Neuronetics, Inc., a medical device company focused on developing therapeutic products for psychiatric and neurological disorders by using the energy in magnetic fields.

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Editor's Note: Neither Dr. O'Reardon, nor any member of his immediate family, has a financial interest in Neuronetics, Inc.

PENN Medicine
is a $2.7 billion enterprise dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and high-quality patient care. PENN Medicine consists of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System (created in 1993 as the nation’s first integrated academic health system).

Penn’s School of Medicine is ranked #3 in the nation for receipt of NIH research funds; and ranked #4 in the nation in U.S. News & World Report’s most recent ranking of top research-oriented medical schools. Supporting 1,400 fulltime faculty and 700 students, the School of Medicine is recognized worldwide for its superior education and training of the next generation of physician-scientists and leaders of academic medicine.

Penn Health System is comprised of: its flagship hospital, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, consistently rated one of the nation’s “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report; Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation's first hospital; Presbyterian Medical Center; a faculty practice plan; a primary-care provider network; two multispecialty satellite facilities; and home health care and hospice.

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