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A Brief History of TMS




While Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) Therapy may be new to you, it isn’t as new as it seems.  After a multitude of randomized controlled research trials, TMS was FDA approved for the treatment of Major Depressive Disorder in 2008 and has since been utilized safely and effectively as a non-invasive, non-medication, effective treatment for depression.  Though TMS is still a relatively new option in the fight against depression (available for 14 years), the principles underlying TMS were actually discovered over 100 years ago.


Let’s look at a little history:


In the late 1700’s, the Italian physician, biologist, physicist, and philosopher Luigi Galvani along with his wife, Lucia, discovered that a dead frog’s legs twitched when touched with an electrical spark.  Strangely enough, this led to a new understanding of electric potential in biological organisms, known as bioelectricity. He found that muscles contract with bioelectricity and nerves send messages with bioelectricity.


About 100 years later, In 1881, Michael Faraday is credited with discovering that a pulse of electric current passing through a wire coil creates a magnetic field around it. This led to the further discovery that when the rate at which the electric current passes through a conductor changes, a second electric current is created in nearby conductors.


Much later we learned that the neurons in our brain are bioelectric conductors and our brains naturally function with electricity being passed from one cell to another.


In the 1980’s, a group of scientists led by Dr. Anthony Barker put these ideas together and made the first device that pulsed electricity through metal coils (Faraday coils), creating a magnetic field.  In order to cause electrical currents to run through conductors inside a human body, Dr. Barker and his team held the Faraday coil above the scalp and saw movement in the right hand. This was the first incident of electromagnetic stimulation of the brain creating a muscle response in the body.


This first TMS device sent a single pulse of electricity into the brain and was used as a diagnostic tool for patients believed to have multiple sclerosis. Soon it was found that sending pulses in rapid succession through the coils made it possible to do more than diagnose. Rapidly repeated Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation appeared to “generate lasting cortical effects” that continued after the electrical stimulation stopped, according to a 1994 paper by Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone et al. Although what exactly this meant wasn’t clear at the time, it opened up whole new possibilities for TMS.


The way doctors and scientists regarded TMS quickly changed.  Instead of pursuing TMS technology simply to diagnose, suddenly the potential for a new, powerful mental health treatment existed and an explosion of excitement and research began.


More than 90 clinical trials and multiple meta analyses were completed and published in the subsequent 14 years.  Only two years into the process, the first guidelines for the safe and ethical use of TMS were published.  In 1998, these guidelines were made official.  As numerous proof-of-principle trials were successful, the potential benefits were being confirmed.  

Eventually, the FDA first approved TMS as a therapy for Major Depressive Disorder in 2008. Since then, TMS technology has been refined and improved and received FDA approval several other indications including, depression with anxiety, migraine, smoking cessation, pain, and OCD.


Current TMS research investigates TMS treatment for autism, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and more.  To date, it has been most successful in treating depression. 


Most insurance carriers, including Tricare and Medicaid, recognize the benefits of TMS and cover TMS treatment for Major Depressive Disorder. 


TMS continues to steadily gain a reputation for being a non-invasive, non-medication, effective treatment for depression. 


Think TMS might be the right treatment for you? Reach out to us. 

We’d love to help (503) 379-0208


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