However, Professors Talma Hendler and Nathan Intrator of Tel Aviv University are working to change that. They have developed groundbreaking tools that pair a commonplace electroencephalography and a more complex functional magnetic resonance imaging to track PTSD deep inside the brain. Their approach is to locate the traces of PTSD in the brain and monitor those areas over time to determine “stress vulnerability” inside the body of each patient, much earlier on than an MRI could. The two professors worked with a test group of IDF medics, who were examined before they started their military service and after their subsequent exposure to stressful events while deployed in combat units. The results of this study could significantly aid treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder, by determining scientifically when soldiers have their breaking point earlier on. Presently, only expensive and less readily available MRI’s can study how post-traumatic stress disorder impacts the brain, and people usually only utilize MRI’s once the post-traumatic stress disorder has reached a very difficult level.
The US Navy will be using an Israeli-developed transcranial magnetic stimulation system to treat patients with a range of psychological conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), stress, major depressive disorder, and others.
The Navy has ordered several Deep TMS therapy helmets made by Jerusalem-based Brainsway for use in several of its medical facilities to help treat sailors and their families, as part of a therapy plan that could include counseling, anti-depressives, and other therapies.
“Our validation as a supplier to the US Navy is an important stepping stone for our company into the US market,” said Brainsway CEO and president Guy Ezekiel. “The Navy provides health services to many service people and to their families at a large number of treatment centers, and we are proud to be a part of those services.”
Brainsway’s device is based on transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a noninvasive technique used to apply brief magnetic pulses to the brain. The pulses are administered by passing high currents through an electromagnetic coil (the H Coil) placed adjacent to a patient’s scalp. The pulses cause small electrical currents that stimulate nerve cells in the targeted brain region, with the intention of alleviating depression by modulating cortical excitability.
Studies have shown TMS to be effective in a number of neurological, psychiatric and medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, autism, Asperger’s disorder, substance addictions, alcoholism, tinnitus, bipolar depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, migraine, cognitive deficits, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, neuropathic pain and schizophrenia.
Other than therapy, TMS is the only physically noninvasive treatment for these and other conditions. Patients wear the Brainsway device — in the form of a helmet – for about 20 minutes, with the H Coil placed on the specific spot on the head where the brain cells that a therapist wants to manipulate are located.
The effectiveness of the “dose” — how intense the TMS pulses need to be – is determined by the results of EMG recording electrodes that are connected to the hand muscle, measured in the hand movements and gauged by the electrodes. According to the company, the treatment has no side effects, with “the most prominent sensation felt by the patient during treatment a small vibration of the coil elements over the head.”
The Brainsway system in January 2013 received FDA approval for the treatment of depression in patients who have failed to respond to antidepressant medications, and since then has been installed in numerous hospitals in the US and Europe. A year later, Brainsway got its first US deal when the technology was made available for tens of millions of customers of United Health Technologies (via its Optum Health Services Platform) for treatment of Major Depressive Disorder. Since then it has been adopted by a number of organizations, including Harvard University’s McLean Hospital, one of the world’s top psychiatric hospitals.
The system is also being used at 15 sites around the world to treat smokers who have not responded to other methods to get them to quit, and is being tested as a treatment for additional conditions, including schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The H Coil, the heart of the Brainsway system was developed by Avraham Zangen, an Israeli scientist and Bar-Ilan University alumnus, while doing brain research at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the late 1990s, along with Israeli physicist Yiftach Roth. Brainsway was established in 2003 as the marketing and research platform for the patented H-coil Deep TMS system, with Brainsway the exclusive licensee of the the patent owned by the NIH. Initial development of the Brainsway device, were done in Israel at Brainsway’s Jerusalem headquarters, with trials done at Tel Aviv University.
Brainsway has been working over the past year to commercialize its technology, and recently appointed a new VP of sales in the US. “The company is in the midst of a large expansion in the US market,” said Ezekiel. “We are concentrating our efforts on expanding our strategic presence in the US and increasing sales there.”