UNM Researcher: Battery can treat brain disorders


ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – A UNM researcher is forging the way in discovering new treatments for hard-to-treat illnesses like schizophrenia, alcoholism even learning disabilities.

Instead of pills, he’s using electrical currents from a 9-Volt battery to change the way the brain works.

“As simple as it is, and as cheap and easy as it is, it’s very useful for a lot of different things that doctors need to treat,” said Dr. Vincent Clark, UNM Psychology Professor.

It’s a small device with a lot of promise.

A grad student demonstrated how it works. Electrodes soaked in saline are attached to his head and arm and then the system is turned on. A current flowing from a 9-Volt battery then goes to his brain.

“There’s a tiny bit of tingling under the electrode, but that’s it,” said Aaron Jones, UNM graduate student in psychology, who estimates he’s been hooked up hundreds of times. “I don’t feel any different emotionally…I do feel like my focus is better.”

Clark and his team are leading researchers in the field of using targeted electrical currents to change the brain’s chemistry called Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS).

Studies have already shown electrical currents can help people learn and increase memory. It’s also had promising results for treating illnesses like depression.

Clark says as opposed to most drugs there are few, if any, side effects.

“The most promising things now, I think one of them, is for treating pain,” he said. “The only option we really have now is opiates, and people become addicted to opiates, people die from opiates.”

Depending on what you want to influence, what you want to do, we target different parts of the brain,” Clark said. “We can either decrease of increase activity in that part of the brain.”

He said the possibilities for the treatment are endless, because so many disorders are based in different regions of the brain.

Right now, Clark and his team are studying how electrical currents can be used to decrease alcoholism, schizophrenic hallucinations and depression. They are also studying how it can be used to increase learning, memory and spelling abilities.

He and his team are also studying how electrical currents can be used in combination with mindfulness meditation to quit smoking.

Clark cautions, don’t try this at home. He says anyone who’s interested in the treatments should talk to their doctor, but the treatment isn’t readily available in New Mexico.

“That’s one of our challenges right now. How to figure out the best, most effective way to use it,” he said.

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