Society has long fantasized about a day when science would provide technological cures for societal ills such as aggression, impulsive decision-making, and depression. In the popular science fiction TV Show, Star Trek, a medical tricorder was waved over the body, magically probing internal systems and recalibrating problems without any side effects. For some medical illnesses, such a device seems just around the corner (See Qualcomm’s $10 Million Tricorder XPrize; Scanadu Scout). However, for mental illnesses, which are particularly complex and poorly understood, such a solution remains elusive. Nevertheless, several prominent media outlets have drawn attention to the use of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), a technique which delivers a low-intensity direct current to modulate the activity of neurons in the cerebral cortex, as an early example of such a fabled device.
Indeed, by utilizing tDCS, researchers at academic medical centers have made widespread reports of its therapeutic effects on a number of neuropsychiatric disorders ranging from major depressive disorder, pain disorders, musculoskeletal disorders, drug addiction, Parkinson’s disease and motor deficits after stroke. Moreover, outside a disease population, researchers have also found that a normal population is capable of benefitting from tDCS – showing increased performance across a variety of cognitive tasks such as attention, memory and decision-making.
Continue reading »