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 TMSandDCS@unsw.edu.au

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: