Brent Williams’ wish list

November 1, 2013 in tDCS News

Brent Williams is one of the active bloggers, who has a whole section of his blog dedicated to tDCS.

Recently he published a wish list, hoping that it will become a reality in the next 5 years. The list probably voices what many people feel.
A shortened down version of his list is below:

In The Next Five Years I Wish That:

  1. Every appropriate medical practitioner (and counsellor) would at least become aware of tDCS.
  2. That the popular press would at least make an attempt to write sensible and factual articles about tDCS.
  3. That funding could be found to “get the word out” about tDCS.
  4. That I could find one or more well-known, depressed, troubled Hollywood star(s) to promote tDCS.
  5. That my second career be all about researching, writing, and speaking about the practical side of tDCS.

You can visit his blog through this link.

Popular media tDCS: NYTimes / National Post

October 30, 2013 in News Items

Three recent articles from popular media.

NYTimes – Jumper-Cables for the mind

This article is a follow-up to the NY-Times article below. It is probably one of the most balanced and complete articles that have been published about tDCS in the popular press to date. Highly informative. Once just has to wonder where journalists get their titles though.

NYTimes – Jump-Starter Kits for the Mind

This article briefly covers the promises of tDCS, how tDCS could be used in revalidation. Some expert opinions about the dangers of tDCS. How there is still much to learn about how tDCS works. A whole lot of unfortunate marketing and the usual simplification that it’s just a nine volt battery.

National Post – Do-it-yourself brain stimulation has scientists worried as healthy people try to make their minds work better

This article mainly deals with the risks of people experimenting with tDCS at home. There is the acknowledgement that nobody yet seriously got hurt, but the lack of knowledge about long-term use of tDCS is still worrisome.

Why tDCS should not be used in military and security services

October 30, 2013 in News Items, Research, tDCS News

Do we want to take the risk of changing the brain processing in people who potentially cannot make autonomous decisions concerning the application of non-invasive brain stimulation?

This is the question that is being explored by Bernhard Sehm and Patrick Ragert of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany.

tDCS has great potential as a theurapeutic tool. Currently there are no long term studies of the effects of tDCS. Can a government expect healthy servicemen, who can offer little resistance to what is required of them,  to use this tool. Should tDCS at all be used for cognitive enhancement and how specific are the effects. tDCS has been described by one researcher as a blanket: pull on one side and a part of the brain is uncovered. What if tDCS upsets the normal balance and makes irreversible changes to the brain.

tDCS is currently being evaluated by the US army and DARPA as a potential tool to train snipers and drone pilots. Given how little we currently know, is it a valid proposition to promote these techniques in people who are responsible for their own lives as well as the lives of others?

Read more about it at Frontiers of Neuroscience.

Investigating tDCS as a Treatment for Unipolar and Bipolar Depression

October 30, 2013 in Research, tDCS News

One of the largest tDCS trials for depression is about to kick off. Marking a milestone in tDCS effectiveness research for both Unipolar and Bipolar depression.

The University of New South Wales, along with Duke University, Emory University, Sheppard Pratt Health System, University of Medicine and Dentistry New Jersey and the University of Texas are embarking on a large scale trial for the treatment of both unipolar and bipolar depression with tDCS. This is the largest multi-center tDCS trial to date. It is led by Dr. Colleen Loo from the Black Dog Institute at the University of New South Wales

The study will investigate the effectiveness of tDCS as a treatment for Unipolar and Bipolar Depression in an expected number of 120 volunteers who suffer from depression. The recruiting of candidates is ongoing, with completion of the study to be expected in March 2015.

To enquire about participating in the trial, contact

Can Savant Skills be Unlocked in any of us?

October 21, 2013 in Fun Trivia, News Items, Research, tDCS News

Savant skills are latent in normal people. According to the research of an Australian mind scientist, non-invasive brain stimulation like tDCS can bring our savant skills to the surface.

Most savants are born with their abilities. But severe brain injuries can cause savant-like abilities to surface. These skills can appear suddenly out of nowhere and can disappear just as suddenly. Likely there is a dormant savant in each of us.

The most famous savant is probably portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. Kim Peek was the inspiration for his character. While suffering from autistic disorder, he possessed a number of extraordinary talents. As many as 1 in 10 individuals with autistic disorder have such remarkable abilities. He was seriously disabled and even could not button his shirt. His IQ was only 87, but he had encyclopedic knowledge of geography, music, literature, history, sports and nine other areas of expertise. He had memorized over 8600 books. He used his left eye to scan one page, and his right eye to scan the other simultaneously.

The first description of savant syndrome in a scientific paper appeared in 1783 in the German psychology journal. Like Kim from Rain Man, Jedediah Buxton was a lightning speed calculator with extraordinary memory. He was illiterate but could solve complex math problems as fast as any modern calculator could. He was able to do this, even while having a conversation.

Most talented savants display astonishing excellence in specific areas. These areas include drawing, memory, music, language, calendar calculations, and arithmetics.

Allan Snyder, an Australian mind scientist and director of the Center for the Mind at the University of Sydney, is poised to figure out where these skills come from. He did numerous experiments about inducing savant skills in normal people. He considers that savant skills are latent in everyone of us.

In the past, researchers have tried to explore the cause of savant skills, but with little success in providing a compelling picture that can explain all savants. One more recent theory assumes that savant skills are due to a left side brain dysfunction, with the right side brain compensating for the dysfunction.

Based on this theory, Snyder deduced that savant skills could be artificially induced in normal people. To prove his argument, Snyder initially applied TMS and later tDCS to the anterior temporal lobe in his research. For the experiment, he decreased the excitability of the left brain and increased it in the right brain.

His numerous experiments show that 60% of participants could solve an insight problem after tDCS stimulation. This provides compelling evidence to the theory that suppression of the left brain can lead to certain increased skills.

The left hemisphere of our brain is important for processing routinized strategies. And the right hemisphere is critical for processing novel cognitive situations. By diminishing left hemisphere with tDCS the participants tend to examine a problem anew, instead of through routinized strategies.

Snyder has conducted many experiments on revealing savant skills by applying non-invasive brain stimulation:


History of tDCS

October 15, 2013 in News Items

In the distant past, people applied electrical stimulation to treat patients by using electric catfish. Recently, transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) has attracted more and more interest. The basic design of this technique was made one hundred years ago. It was rediscovered in the early 2000s, and has been increasingly studied since then.

The use of electrical stimulation to treat diseases has a long history. The ancient Egyptians used electric catfish out of the Nile to stimulate themselves to treat certain nervous diseases.

The Roman physician Scribonius Largus treated a patient with gout by using a live torpedo fish. He wrote that headaches and other pains could be cured by standing in shallow water near these electric fish in 46 AD.

Ibn Sidah was a Muslim doctor of the eleventh century. He believed that a live electric catfish had beneficial effects when placed on the brow of a person suffering an epileptic seizure. The recipes for the torpedo and its ilk have been cited until the end of the renaissance.

By the time of 1930s, electroconvulsive/electroshock therapy (ECT) emerged. Ugo Cerletti, the Italian psychiatrist, who in 1938 came up with the idea for treating human beings with electroshock therapy. Cerletti observed that pigs were electrocuted into unconsciousness as a kind of anesthesia to make the process of slaughter easier. He concluded that this method could be useful to patients with mental illness. Not more than a year after Cerletti got his brilliant idea, it was introduced into the United States.

For the next thirty years, hundred of thousands of patients of all ages, received electroshock treatments for every type of mental disorders. But by the end of the 1960s, ECT had almost disappeared from the psychiatric scene, due to the use of more effective neuroleptics and an anti-ECT movement. This cessation was motivated by the numerous side-effects of ECT, such as memory loss.

In the 1960s, there was an increased interest in tDCS (transcranial direct current stimulation). A series of studies were published in the 1960s and 1970s. It was proven that tDCS could affect brain function by changing the cortical excitability (the rate at which neurons fire). Animal experiments showed that neuronal activity could be changed immediately and this could last for several hours. These studies marked the beginning of tDCS.

However, there were still many fundamental unsolved questions such as the stimulation current densities. These questions caused inconsistent results in human experiments. Meanwhile, drug therapy had become a very profitable method of therapy. As a result, this intervention was not persuasive enough to be adopted by clinicians. And soon it was very much abandoned.

It was not until the early 2000s, the interest in tDCS was revived. Nitsche and his colleagues at the university of Gottingen in Germany rediscovered the technique and carried out a series of studies. From then on, hundreds of tDCS studies have been done in the next decades. This was aided by the significant advances in new brain imaging techniques.

From 2000 to November 2012, more than 500 tDCS studies were completed. This occupies approximately three quarters of the total number of studies ever published. The studies researched on brain function and possible therapies for stroke, pain, depression, motor and psychiatric concerns.

Nitsche and his colleagues offered an overview in their 2008 article: the state of the art of tDCS. It is a very comprehensive guide to the current state of research on tDCS. They summarized effects of different stimulation electrode positions with varied physical parameters. This paper was published in the July 2008 issue of Brain Stimulation.

Just as this paper points out, the study of tDCS is still in its early stages but advancing rapidly. Many institutions have only recently started to investigate this technique, as a promising tool in human neuroscience research and for potential treatments.

A more in-depth history of Transcranial Electro Stimulation with proper references can be read here.

tDCS Makes the ‘Impossible Problem’ Solvable

July 28, 2012 in Fun Trivia, News Items

The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, which ramify … into every corner of our mind.
–John Maynard Keynes

Try connecting all nine of these dots with just four straight lines without lifting your finger or retracing a line.

Have difficulty? You’re not alone. A century of psychological research shows that under laboratory conditions, the expected solution rate for this “nine-dot” problem is 0 percent. Most people continue having difficulty solving the problem after given hints, extended time, and even 100 chances!

Find out the solution and how tDCS improves the number of people finding a solution by following the link to the full article.


Zap your brain into the zone with tDCS

July 25, 2012 in News Items

Whether you want to smash a forehand like Federer, or just be an Xbox hero, there is a shocking short cut to getting the brain of an expert. It is called tDCS.

I’m close to tears behind my thin cover of sandbags as 20 screaming, masked men run towards me at full speed, strapped into suicide bomb vests and clutching rifles. My attackers are only a video, but I am failing miserably…

Then they put the electrodes on me. I am in a lab in Carlsbad, California, in pursuit of an elusive mental state known as ‘flow’ – that feeling of effortless concentration that characterizes outstanding performance in all kinds of skills.

He sticks the anode – the positive pole – to my temple, and the cathode to my left arm. ‘You’re going to feel a slight tingle’, he says, and warns me that if I remove an electrode and break the connection, the voltage passing through my brain will blind me for a good few seconds. Weisend, who is working on a US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency programme to accelerate learning, has been using this form of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to cut the time it takes to train snipers.


Neuroscience: tDCS Brain Buzz

July 24, 2012 in News Items

Scientists reviving a decades-old technique, called tDCS, for brain stimulation have found that it can boost learning. So what else can be done with some wires and a nine-volt battery?

Last year a succession of volunteers sat down in a research lab in Albuquerque, New Mexico to play ‘DARWARS Ambush!’, a video game designed to train US soldiers bound for Iraq. With just seconds to react before a blast or shots rang out, most forgot about the wet sponge affixed to their right temple that was delivering a faint electric tickle. The volunteers received a few milliamps of current at most, and the simple gadget used to deliver it was powered by a 9-volt battery.

It might sound like some wacky garage experiment, but Vincent Clark, a neuroscientist at the University of New Mexico, says that the technique, called transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS), could improve learning. The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency funded the research in the hope that it could be used to sharpen soldiers’ minds on the battlefield. Yet for all its simplicity, tDCS seems to work.

None of the tDCS studies published so far have shown a type of mind-sharpening that would help in exams, but that might simply be a matter of targeting the right brain areas.