Veterans say experimental, 'brain zapping' magnetic resonance therapy can treat PTSD

Veterans interviewed by the Washington Post hail experimental magnetic resonance therapy as a possible treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. Families of autistic children made similar claims.

"I felt so extinguished, but now I feel a spark in there that wasn't there," former Marine Scott Ralston told the paper. "It's a new life for me," he said after receiving the treatment 80 times over the course of about 8 months.

MRT consists of magnetic coils that pulse energy into the cortex and is delivered in painless half-hour doses. Its informal name: "brain zapping."

The therapy is offered at the Brain Treatment Center in Newport Beach, CA, for free for former service members, and for $11,500 and more to others, such as autistic children. It is not covered by insurance, according to the article.

Joleen Hummel described MRT on her autistic teenage son to the Post, saying, "He was like my child for the first time, talking to me about his future, asking questions about autism, asking me about heaven, what happens when you die. It was like having a conversation with a 14-year-old child I'd never met."

Efforts are underway to expand the use of the therapy, but a lack of scientific understanding as to how it works is a barrier.

"Right now it's like we're selling snake oil," said pediatric radiologist and oncologist Kevin Murphy in the article. "I have colleagues saying, 'What's the mechanism?' " he said. "I say I don't know. I'm not at the point where I can say I understand these things."

Murphy is one of the practitioners at the Brain Treatment Center running a clinical trial of MRT on 48 veterans for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Another one is planned for 400 autistic patients in partnership with the University of California at San Diego, according to the article.

The FDA approved MRT for drug-resistant major depression in 2008, and is used in depression centers, but now doctors are modifying the technique to treat other conditions off-label. It is administered via transcranial magnetic stimulation, defined by the Mayo Clinic as "a procedure that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain to improve symptoms of depression."

"With TMS, a large electromagnetic coil is placed against your scalp near your forehead. The electromagnet used in TMS creates electric currents that stimulate nerve cells in the region of your brain involved in mood control and depression," the Mayo Clinic explains.

- read the Washington Post article