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New Technology Improves Cognition in MS Patients

February 27, 2017

Multiple sclerosis is an often disabling neurological disease that affects one's muscles, vision, mood, and concentration. While there is currently no cure for the condition, treatment options are available for reducing the symptoms. The most common therapy consists of steroid drugs, which have been shown to speed up recovery.

A new technology called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) has been recently shown to improve some of the symptoms of MS. The tDCS device was created by Marom Bikson, Ph.D., a professor of biomedical engineering at The City College of New York, in collaboration and Abhishek Datta, Ph.D., the chief technology officer of Soterix Medical.

Researchers from New York University's (NYU) Langone's Multiple Sclerosis Comprehensive Care Center conducted a feasibility study for tDCS, and the results were published in the journal Neuromodulation: Technology at the Neural Interface.

During the tDCS procedure, a low-amplitude current that travels through a set of electrodes is placed on the scalp of the participants. The electric current stimulates the brain's cortex, thus enabling neurons to signal to each other more easily. This, in turn, improves neural connectivity and hastens the learning process that occurs during MS rehabilitation.

For the study, 25 participants used tDCS while playing computer games as part of their brain-training program. The aim of the games was to improve cognitive skills, such as problem-solving abilities, attention, information processing, response time, and other working memory skills. The tDCS training targeted the brain's dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. This brain region has been associated with fatigue, depression, and cognition - areas that are affected by MS.

The participants underwent the training at home, where they completed 10 sessions of cognitive training while being supervised remotely. A study technician would check in with each participant via online video conferencing, and they were able to control the tDCS dosage remotely. Each session lasted for 20 minutes. The study also included a control group of 20 participants who also underwent cognitive training, but without tDCS.

Overall, the tDCS group scored higher on the cognitive scores than those who just played the brain-training computer games.

Sensitive, computerized measurements of complex attention showed the tDCS group had much greater improvements compared with the control group. The tDCS-trained participants also showed significantly greater response time, and these improvements all increased with the number of sessions. The earliest signs of improvement were observed in complex attention and response time. The study found no differences in basic attention or standard cognitive measures. According to Charvet, this suggests more treatment sessions may be needed for improvements to show in the patients' day-to-day activities.

Via Medical News Today