Researchers report that the magnetic therapy is showing promise in reducing the symptoms of autism.
The University of Louisville, Kentucky reports that researchers there are seeing positive results using transcranial magnetic stimulation to treat those with autism. The therapy involves exposing the patient's head to a pulsed low-frequency magnetic field.
Manuel Casanova and his research team placed a coil on the scalps of 10 people with autism to create a low-frequency magnetic field, which they then pulsed by reversing the fields polarity. Patients were given a 20-minute treatment twice a week for five weeks.
To assess how patients responded to the treatment the team measured their brain activity and put them through a series of standard neurological and psychological test before and after transcranial magnetic stimulation treatment.
According to psychologist Lonnie Sears who collaborated on the project, patients showed fewer symptoms of hyperactivity, sensory overload and repetitive behaviors at the end of the treatment period.
In previous studies, Casanova, a neuroscientist, has shown that structural differences between autistic and normal brains contribute to the symptoms of autism, which include sensory, social and communication problems that limit the patients ability to function independently.
Our results are preliminary, but they show a great deal of promise in reducing the severity of symptoms that people with autism find most distressing and, as a result, helping them communicate and relate better something that most of us take for granted, Casanova said.
Another positive from the current study was the finding that the treatment did not diminish areas of "giftedness"; such as superior mathematical ability or an artistic gift as can be present in forms of high- functioning autism.
This is important, Casanova said, because, despite communication and social problems, some people with autism are very gifted in specific areas of intelligence.
About Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
The theory that stimulating the brain with magnetic fields may produce measurable changes in functioning has been around for over a century. The first successful study of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) was only carried out around 20 years ago however. Since then the technique has generated much excitement and its use has been suggested for numerous conditions.
TMS is totally non-invasive and uses small coils of wire which are placed on the patients' scalp at various locations. Small magnetic fields are created around the patients' brain by passing a current through the coils. The magnetic fields then stimulate electrical activity in the brain. By placing the coils at specific points on the scalp the effects of the treatment can be focused on areas of the brain that are known to be dysfunctional in a particular patient or disease.
Besides autism, TMS has been studied as a treatment for fibromyalgia and depression amongst other conditions. A handful of studies have found that the therapy significantly reduces fibromyalgia pain and may be helpful for improving sleep quality. A larger number of studies have looked at using TMS for major depression and found clinically significant anti-depressant effects.