Brain Clinic helps with depression and improves self-control

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(l-r) William Said, Sean Said, Jonathan Downar and Gary Nielsen. Said and Nielsen are business partners opening a new clinic that treats depression with magnets. Sean is a technician and Downar is a consulting psychiatrist.

 

Restorative Brain Clinic seeks to help  those with depression

By Jill Draper

A clinic that treats depression by aiming magnetic pulses against the scalp has opened in South Kansas City. Business partners William Said and Gary Nielsen say their Restorative Brain Clinic offers equipment and procedures not in use at other local facilities.

The clinic uses rTMS or repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation of the brain in order to strengthen (or weaken) synapses—the connections between neurons. Over time, this process often lifts heavy depression and improves self-control, says Dr. Jonathan Downar, a Toronto-based neuroscientist and psychiatrist who is working as a consultant for the clinic.

“The brain can get stuck in an abnormal rhythm just like the heart can,” he explains. “This treatment helps it get unstuck.”

The clinic is on the first floor of 1010 Carondelet Drive near St. Joseph Medical Center and has a psychiatrist on staff as well as various technicians trained to operate two types of magnetic pulse machines. One uses a handheld figure 8 coil and another called Brainsway uses a helmet-like device that fits over the head. There’s also a lab for on-the-spot toxicology analysis and DNA sequencing.

“This is a very atypical psychiatry clinic,” says Said, a biochemist. “When patients walk in, we take a blood sample to analyze what kinds of drugs they’re taking and their serotonin transporter functions.” Serotonin is a factor in depression, and also in anxiety and alcohol use.

“We measure this throughout the treatment,” he says. “Before you feel better, we know if you’re getting better.”

According to Said, the ideal patient for the clinic is someone with major depression who has not achieved relief after trying various medications. A 30-session course of treatment usually costs $8,000 to $12,000 and is covered by most insurance policies and Medicare. (The clinic offers financing and one free treatment per month to an at-risk patient.) The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires each session be a minimum of 19 minutes, but FDA officials are currently reviewing a study that produced nearly identical results by paring down the sessions to 3 minutes. Dr. Downar, who organized the study, says he hopes the new protocol will be approved within the next two years. He expects costs to go down in the future, and says a small, at-home device may even be possible.

At the Restorative Brain Clinic patients are treated with the magnetic pulses once a day from Monday-Friday, but other national studies are underway to see if the process can be speeded up by doing two to four sessions a day.

At an open house on June 3, Dr. Downar, Said and Nielsen showed a video and fielded questions:

  •         Does the procedure hurt? No. It does produce a sensation of static and makes small clicking noises that can be muffled with ear plugs.
  •         Does it reduce creativity? There is no evidence so far that it negatively affects artists, writers, musicians or filmmakers.
  •         Is it different from shock treatment? Shock treatment deliberately induces seizures in the brain. It can be effective, but requires an anesthesiologist in a hospital setting and can result in memory loss. The rTMS method does not produce seizures and can be done in an office.
  •         How well does it work? Response seems to be all or none. Studies show it’s helpful for 50 percent of patients.
  •         Are follow-up treatments needed? It’s recommended to have an occasional follow-up session.
  •         What else can it treat? It shows promise for treating personality disorders, PTSD, OCD, binge eating and other conditions.

Said and Nielson say they’ve invested $500,000 into the clinic and expect first-year revenues to be $3.2 million. In the future they plan to expand into California and Arizona.

 

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