A new experimental treatment for autism and other disorders

A few days ago I stumbled upon an article in the Sydney Morning Herald about an experimental treatment for various disorders, including autism. The treatment involves stimulation of various parts of the brain using magnetic fields. The treatment is called transcranial magnetic stimulation or (TMS).

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

A PIONEERING treatment using magnetic fields to stimulate brain activity has helped people with depression live medication-free and is now being trialled on autistic young people, patients with bipolar disorder and those with traumatic brain injuries.

Doctors at The Alfred hospital say transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has a high success rate, with fewer side effects than more invasive treatments such as electric shock therapy.

Patients are fully conscious and do not need hospital admission. Some are even having the 40-minute sessions in their lunch break. A course of treatment is typically five sessions a week for four weeks.

Due to the unobtrusive nature of the treatment, it seems attractive. However, I am a little skeptical that it could be effective for so many different disorders. The article specifically mentions that it is being used for depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism and brain injuries. Keep in mind, though, that it has been reported recently that there are possibly common causes in disorders such as schizophrenia and autism, where both apparently involve similar genetic mutations, so perhaps this could be an explanation. The treatment is alleged to work for autism and Asperger’s patients by “stimulat[ing] an area of the brain which controls social functioning.”

Anyway, before getting too excited I would definitely like to see some properly controlled studies of the effectiveness of this treatment compared to a placebo. And for what it’s worth, according to Wikipedia (see here), this therapy has actually been around for some time — since about 1985 — and there is little evidence of its effectiveness, except for “treatment-resistant major depression.” However, it is mentioned that the technique is showing promise in the treatment of schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease and tinnitus.

The full article can be found here.



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