U of U prof thinks sound waves could replace anti-depressants

May 20, 2020, 7:19 PM
sound waves...
A U. researcher believes sound wave therapy could replace anti-depressants for some patients. Photo Illustration: Getty Images.

hosSALT LAKE CITY — Sound waves as a depression treatment? It may sound like stuff out of a sci-fi novel, but a Utah scientist believes there could be something to it.

Instead of making an hour long appointment with a psychologist and to get your prescription for pills refilled, you’d simply sit in a chair. A technician would attach nodules that emit ultrasonic waves to your head.

Sound waves and the brain

“The ultrasound is applied remotely, non-invasively to the brain,” says Dr. Jan Kubanek, Assistant Biomedical Engineering Professor, at the University Of Utah. “Those will vibrate the brain’s neurons and will change their activity in response.” 

Kubanek says the sound waves’ activity can make a patient feel better and less anxious. They may even reduce epileptic seizures and quiet chronic pain. 

Kubanek  recently published a paper about how ultrasound can affects the brain in the journal Science Advances.  He says part of the beauty of the promising new painless procedure, is that it requires no surgery or medication.  However, even he doesn’t exactly know why it works. 

“Think of it as a reset… the neurons are malfunctioning.  [But] We don’t know exactly what pattern of connectivity [it resets], but it helps the patient and that’s why we do it,” Kubanek said. 

More work to do

Kubanek says experiments of how ultrasonic waves affect both animals and humans have been going on since the 1920s. 

The process is a long way off:  Kubanek thinks the study will go to a major clinical trial in 3 years. He envisions a world where those suffering from mental disorders can get sound wave therapy and be fine for possibly weeks at a time. 

He says right now, “just 40 seconds can make a patient feel better for hours.” 

Kubanek sees no reason why hospitals couldn’t eventually stock the devices affordably in outpatient wings — or patients even employ them in the home.

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U of U prof thinks sound waves could replace anti-depressants