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U of M study looking to boost mental health therapy with the help of electricity

A team at the University of Manitoba is making first-line mental health treatment more accessible.

They're doing it by teaching people mental health skills virtually, which is also opening up opportunities for new therapies to be studied at the same time.

MENTAL HEALTH RESEARCH

As part of his research, the U of M’s Ji Hyun Ko points electrodes at two mental health brain hot spots.

"Our hypothesis is if we excite these neurons simultaneously in the two different regions, they will communicate more and strengthen their connectivity,” said ko, an assistant professor of human anatomy and cell science.

The targets were discovered by Ko using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

With these findings, he's now using a newer piece of technology called high definition transcranial direct current stimulation or HD-tDCS to see if exciting nearby brain cells has any benefit to patients already practicing cognitive behavioural therapy with mindfulness (CBTm)

"When we are combining the brain stimulation technique with CBTm, perhaps we can synergize the behavioural benefits of CBTm intervention,” Ko said.

Ko explained CBTm is the standard first-line psychotherapy for many mental illnesses, and classes are currently being offered to Manitobans on waitlists through a different project.

"We are going to ask these individuals if they are interested in participating in this optional neural imaging slash brain stimulation study,” Ko said.

Ko noted the goal is to test this type of stimulation and establish whether or not it can bolster the benefits of cognitive behavioural therapy.

If it does, he said the treatment has the potential to be customizable.

"Perhaps eventually the patient can bring the stimulator home and do self-administration of brain stimulation or with some caregiver help,” he said.

For this to happen, Health Canada would need to give its stamp of approval.

More information on CBTm can be found here.

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