Different types of brain stimulation are being tested, and also used, for the treatment of many multiple sclerosis symptoms.
Two noninvasive brain stimulation procedures are showing potential and success in helping people with multiple sclerosis (MS) live better lives.
One type is called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), and the other is called Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS).
These two brain stimulation methods are different, yet both are finding their ways into MS research.
Success with TMS
In TMS, a large machine is used to create a magnetic field that introduces electric current into of the brain. The procedure is performed in a clinic by a lab technician.
Between the two therapies, TMS is considered stronger and can make electrons fire. tDCS is not as strong and only encourages electrons to fire.
TMS has been tested on a variety of MS-related symptoms over the years.
These include fatigue, mood and attention, chronic pain, and oxidative stress. TMS is also used for moderating the blood brain barrier, which has also been found to be of clinical significance in the treatment of several autoimmune diseases.
Now there are studies looking at TMS as an aid for spasticity in people with MS.
There is also a newer form of TMS, Intermittent Theta Burst Stimulation (ITBS), that according to a small study, could be helpful in treating MS-related spasticity in the legs.
Uses for tDCS
The other type of brain stimulation gaining traction in the MS arena is tDCS.
tDCS delivers electrical stimulation directly to the brain through electrodes placed on scalp, which target specific regions of the brain.
This procedure has been shown to successfully treat fatigue in adults with MS, as well as improve cognitive functioning in healthy controls and study participants with a range of medical disorders.
Cognitive impairment in MS remains a major treatment challenge, and researchers running a new trial out of New York University (NYU) Langone Medical Center are looking to see how treatment with tDCS could help.
Leigh Charvet, PhD, the study’s principal investigator and an associate professor in the Department of Neurology at NYU, told Healthline that this study is “putting MS at the forefront.”
She noted that MS treatments are often a byproduct of research done on other illnesses. However, this study is centered on MS and “helping as many patients as possible.”
The goal of this study is to create a program that is accessible and sustainable for MS patients, meaning that it is easy to do and available in the comfort of one’s own home.
She emphasized that more sessions seem to be leading to better results.
The tDCS device worked best when paired with cognitive training at home via telerehabilitation, Charvet explained.
Charvet also led a successful study published earlier this year about the positive results of telerehabilitation on cognitive issues. She said she was “very excited about fatigue levels going down” for patients as a result of her current trial, suggesting this could help many of those experiencing disabling MS-related fatigue.
But Charvet cautioned, “It’s still in an early stage with a lot to be learned.”
Funded by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the feasibility study was designed to reach as many people with MS in as many homes as possible with the purpose of using a brain stimulation device along with telemedicine to help them manage and improve symptoms such as fatigue and cognitive issues.
This feasibility study will test a “sham” device vs. the actual device. The clinical trial is currently seeking applicants.
In addition, data is still being collected for another clinical trial out of the University of Belgrade looking at rTMS for aiding lower limb spasticity in MS patients.
Other possible treatments
Other brain stimulation therapies similar to tDCS are also being evaluated.
Transcranial Alternating Current Stimulation (tACS) differs in how the electrical current is delivered. It was cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2008 for depression and other conditions such as insomnia and anxiety.
These devices are available at clinics across the country. This process continues to show successful testing with the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Kelly Roman, co-founder of Fisher Wallace, a company that provides brain stimulation devices, told Healthline that of their 25,000 active customers, approximately 80 percent find success with their depression and 20 percent with insomnia issues.
While MS is not a focus for Fisher Wallace, the success of their products on MS-type symptoms could provide relief for some patients.
Editor’s Note: Caroline Craven is a patient expert living with MS. Her award winning blog is GirlwithMS.com, and she can be found @thegirlwithms.