The History of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation in 4 Innovative Stages

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is an effective therapy technique that Integrative Healthcare Center offers to fight depression with magnetism in the brain. But why? And how did it come about? The answers are only shocking when you consider the length of history of such a procedure.

The idea behind TMS seems straight out of science fiction, but it’s been around for over 100 years. For as long as we’ve been able to harness electricity and magnetism, bright minds figured out they could use these forces to impact the brain. Since then, electricity has been used on the brain for good and dubious medical reasons, much to the scientific community’s shock and amazement.

Nowadays, the science behind transcranial magnetic stimulation is solid. We know which part of the brain is related to depression and can target its nerve cells with magnetic fields to give it a jolt. Our FDA-cleared Deep TMS therapy is proven to be a productive way to combat not just depression but a host of mental issues. This article will explore how humanity developed the science and know-how to make this possible.

Electricity and the brain

To discuss transcranial magnetic stimulation, we must first address electricity. Our cells carry electrical currents throughout the body, which make everything possible. From moving your finger to opening your eyes to deep and complex emotions, none would be possible without the generation of electrical currents.

The conventional narrative starts with electric experiments in the 17th and 18th centuries, but civilizations have been using electricity as a treatment for much longer. Ancient Egyptians used shocks from the electric catfish to treat arthritis. Naturalists were also fascinated with the electric eel. These writings influenced the work of Italian physician Luigi Galvani and Italian physicist Alessandro Volta.

If those names sound familiar to you, Galvani gave us
“galvanism,” which refers to electricity caused by chemical action (like the brain sending signals). Additionally, the basic unit of electric potential, the “volt,” is named in honor of Volta.

Galvani is famous for animal experiments. He discovered that when he inserted brass and iron into the legs of a dead frog, it would induce movement. Galvani thought there was such a thing as biological electricity in dead animals. Volta disagreed and improved upon Galvani’s work by proving that electricity was coming from the interaction between the metals. His work laid the groundwork for creating an early battery from copper, zinc, and saltwater brine. However, the magnetic foundations of TMS would not come until the work of Michael Faraday, the guru of magnetism.

Faraday and Electromagnetism

Michael Faraday was an English scientist who changed how the world understood magnetism. Before his work, the consensus was that electricity had something to do with magnetism, as scientists observed that a compass stopped pointing north when near electricity. Faraday’s experiments proved other ways to create electricity, most notably with overlapping magnetic fields.

Faraday’s discovery is known as electromagnetic induction, the foundation upon which transcranial magnetic stimulation rests. In TMS, a magnetic field generates electricity in a brain region. With knowledge of electricity and magnetism, doctors turned their eye to harnessing it for medical purposes.

Medicine and Electricity: Precursors to Transcranial Magnetic Simulation

The first man to try electric stimulation on the brain was an American surgeon, Robert Bartholow. His patient had a tumor on his scalp, which had exposed his central nervous system. When Robert stimulated areas of the exposed brain in 1874, the patient moved to the opposite side of his body. So began the medical profession’s fascination with electricity and the brain.

Shocks and magnetic coils to the brain were tried by doctors in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Most famously, the Italian physicians Cerletti and Bini developed electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for people with mental health conditions. ECT applies shocks to the head and induces a seizure, making it far more intrusive and painful than transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Finally, in the 1980s, Merton and Morton created a simulator that didn’t need to be directly attached to the nerves but to the skin. Their device sent a single high voltage that could penetrate the brain and was successful in causing bodily movement. This experiment was the birth of transcranial brain stimulation as a concept. You didn’t need to fry the brain with repeated electricity and direct exposure but briefly shock it into action. However, the technology was still rudimentary, and the shocks brought on contractions to the scalp. Equipped with the knowledge that you can produce changes to the body through the brain without giving patients seizures, it only became a matter of time before someone figured out how to do it painlessly.

A few years later, in 1985, the first safe transcranial brain stimulation devise was developed by Dr. Barker. This device was a research tool to help map the human brain. After experimenting with electrodes to produce stimulation in the brain and finding it too painful, he turned to magnetic fields. That year he aimed his device at a patient’s left-side cerebral motor strip and induced twitching in a specific area of the right hand. This procedure was a breakthrough; the startling level of specificity without causing pain unleashed a research and treatment revolution in the field.

Modern Day Transcranial Brain Stimulation

The initial uses for TMS were for physical therapy, but after much research in the 90s and early 2000s, it was considered an accepted treatment for mental disorders. In 2008, the FDA approved the first TMS helmet to treat depressive disorders, and researchers have developed many subsequent devices for other conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Modern TMS works with a much more elaborate helmet. Inside the helmet are wires and capacitors that move electricity throughout. Then a second electric current is generated, and the ensuing magnetism activates specific neurons in the brain, causing them to fire. Different brain sections are targets for different conditions. For example, the prefrontal cortex is moved into action if the patient suffers from depression since that particular area controls emotions.

The direct activation of lagging areas for medication-resistant patients has proven exceptionally effective. 3 out of 4 patients experienced changes, with 51% experiencing remission, meaning their symptoms go away after transcranial brain stimulation. The sessions are also short, 20 minutes over 4-6 weeks, and the positive effects endure even after the therapy ends. The devices are safe and do not cause pain, allowing the wearer to return to their daily routine after each session.

The discovery of transcranial brain stimulation rests on hundreds of years of observation and experimentation. Not only did medicine have to understand that electricity can produce a change in the human body, but they then had to discover neurons, map the brain, and realize what each part controls. Only then could the principles of magnetism be applied to create a painless and humane treatment that legitimately helps improve the lives of those who need it.

Integrative Healthcare Center and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Living with mental health issues is challenging, and we are here to help with top-of-the-line care for anyone seeking to address their condition. Our team is experienced with traditional forms of therapy, such as psychiatry as well as more groundbreaking treatments like TMS. We are wellness experts, and whether you need behavioral therapy for autism or want to make a lifestyle change, we will treat you with compassion and as a complete person.

Integrative Healthcare Center offers Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation because it works with the same general principles but targets more of the brain, and research has demonstrated it produces better outcomes. You can contact us on our website or call (844) 222-3176 to make an impact on your life.

TMS vs. ECT: 4 Convincing Ways Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Is Superior To Electroconvulsive Therapy

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is a more effective treatment than electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Learn about the downsides and upsides of TMS and ECT.

Read More →
TMS Therapy for Depression: Everything You Need to Know
TMS therapy for depression has only grown in popularity. This evidence-based, FDA-approved therapy might be transformative for you. Read to learn more!
Read More →
Developing 9 Amazing Healthy Habits around TMS Therapy!
Most people struggling with depression or other challenging mental health conditions know it can be a grueling experience that sucks the air out of your ...
Read More →
Scroll to Top