TRIGEMINAL NERVE STIMULATION
As I frequently do, I was scouring the Internet for anything new and promising on the horizon. I typed in the keywords "new depression treatment." Up came a select few articles about something called TNS. Not to be confused with TMS transcranial magnetic simulation (see April post "TMS") which I tried and found to be completely useless.
Several of the articles were the same exact story on different psychology or medical websites. It involved a clinical trial for a device that has been successful in treating epileptics. Turns out, along with a dramatic reduction in seizures, an unexpected positive side effect of this treatment was noted: mood elevation. Now a new branch of investigation has morphed from the initial epilepsy study.
My Internet research led me to UCLA's "Depression Research & Clinical Program." A whole department in a major, highly respected university devoted to the study of depression. Luckily I live about an hour's drive from there.
I found a link that read "Our Trigeminal Nerve Stimulation Project using electrical stimulation of a peripheral nerve in adults who are still having symptoms of depression despite using medication (age 18-65)"
As though it was written exclusively for me.
Clicking on the link revealed a flyer that asked:
• Feeling blue or depressed?
• Antidepressant medications not working?
• You’re between age 18 and 65?
yes, Yes, YES.
Sounded like it wasn't meant to be right out of the gate. Regardless, I left a message describing my situation and hoped for a call back thank you very much.
More time goes by with no word. Finally a call from my doctor who informs me she left a message on the very same voicemail but had not heard back. I decided to be the squeaky wheel and left another message basically restating what I had said on the first message. I went back to the website and found another phone number that appeared to be the main department number as opposed to this "direct line" to the study itself. I took a shot expecting another recording but amazingly I heard a live, female voice answer. I launched into my tired speech about my situation and how I hadn't had a response after two messages had been left. She told me that they had been so inundated with calls, they couldn't possibly get back to everyone. It was unprecedented for any study on depression they've conducted. They had never seen anything like this. Literally calls from all over the country were pouring in every day. This explained why the message specified only L.A. area calls. I told her where I live. She replied that was very close and took my name and number to deliver to someone important (I guess.)
Well, yet more time goes by and nothing. Then a call from my doctor. They called HER to get in touch with ME. I was shocked. She gave me a number to call. Yep, it was the very first number I called with the very same voicemail. Sigh. With nothing to lose I left a third message throwing in the fact that my doctor had contacted them as well.
More time goes by. Nothing. Then my cell rings displaying an unfamiliar number. It's the voice from the voicemail recording. He wants to prescreen me on the phone with lots of questions. After about 15-20 minutes he informed me that I had, in fact, pre-qualified and wants me to come in for a 6-hour appointment so I can be screened further to make sure I'm a good candidate. What I thought was a longshot, considering people from all over the country were enquiring, turned into a huge cut in line right to the front door. Didn't see this coming at all.
I am subject number 9.
At the risk of boring the reader even further, here's a brief explanation of this new depression treatment. In the face just beneath the skin are two large nerves that run parallel up behind the eyes and forehead and deep into the brain. The trigeminal nerves function both as the main nerves of sensation for the face and the motor nerves controlling the muscles for chewing. The trigeminal nerves emerge from (or enter) the skull, as opposed to the spinal nerves which come from the spinal column.
The device is the size of a large cell phone. Two wires from the stimulator are connected to electrodes attached to the forehead above each eyebrow by adhesive. The electrodes transmit an electrical current to the nerves. These nerves are like a freeway deep into the brain. Patients use the device for approximately eight hours every night while asleep. It's non invasive. Since it's a clinical trial it's free of charge with no frickin' insurance involvement. In contrast to antidepressants, no major side effects have been noted. Side effects suck so this is good. Maybe it's too good.
They've already had one clinical trial with 5 people. So far they have 4 more recruited for this second trial. 70-80 percent of the subjects in the first trial achieved remission, a highly significant result in a pilot study. At this writing I have about three weeks until the first appointment. I'm hopeful, but guarded. I cannot get my hopes too high. It's a potentially very hard fall. I'm now in wait-and-see mode.