We are developing new ways of changing the brain’s activity, through electricity, magnetism, and/or light. Like all of our work, our emphasis is on new tools that could be used in patients in the very near term. Much of this work focuses on the idea that mental disorders arise from problems in networks — in the connections and communication between brain regions. We believe the best way to control a network is to stimulate a network — to delivery energy at more than one node, in a patterned way that interacts with the network’s natural dynamics. Projects in the lab use those methods to modify circuits involved in post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and addictions.
Deep brain stimulation (DBS) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) are successful clinical therapies for mental disorders, even when no other treatments have worked. The problem is that they do not work for everyone, and we do not know which patients will/won’t get clinical results. This is in part because we do not know why stimulating the brain in certain ways helps some people get better. In both human subjects and our animal models, we are studying brain stimulation therapies to understand how they change behaviors and brain signatures. We are then linking those changes back to the complex picture of clinical improvement.
Our ultimate goal is to turn our research into new and highly specific treatments for mental illness. We are part of an ongoing trial using a new brain stimulation method designed by Dr. Widge to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder. We often test our neurostimulation methods in human volunteers who are undergoing neurosurgery for problems not related to mental illness; see the “Publications” page for some of our work in epilepsy patients. In coming years, we will also test new non-invasive or minimally-invasive approaches to changing our target brain networks.
Beyond these major directions, we have active work in the neuro-ethics of implantable brain stimulation (with Eran Klein and Sara Goering from the University of Washington), in new hardware development (with Draper Laboratory and MIT, among others) and in improving the practice of clinical psychiatry (with the American Psychiatric Association).