Scientists want to map origins of mental illness for noninvasive treatment development

brain image

A new initiative called NeuroCircuit is using brain mapping to find the "circuits" in the brain that are responsible for mental health conditions so that ways of remotely stimulating those circuits can be developed. The initiative is part of the Stanford Neurosciences Institute's "Big Ideas" program to bring together teams of researchers from several fields of study and discipline to solve major neuroscience problems.

This particular program is co-lead by Amit Etkin, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and Stephen Baccus, an associate professor of neurobiology at the school.

"Many psychiatric disorders, especially disorders of mood, probably involve malfunction within specific brain circuits that regulate emotion and motivation, yet our current pharmaceutical treatments affect circuits all over the brain," said William Newsome, director of the Stanford Neurosciences Institute in a release. "The ultimate goal of NeuroCircuit is more precise treatments, with minimal side effects, for specific psychiatric disorders."

The study revolves around two parts: mapping the circuits within the brain to find the ones responsible (rather than affected by) mental disorders and then using a technology called transcranial magnetic stimulation to stimulate those areas. TMS is currently used for depression treatments, but is in its infancy and targets mainly areas available to it rather than areas that might be most effective.

Baccus and Etkins believe that using other brain mapping technologies in conjunction with TMS may prove more fruitful. They are also exploring ultrasound as an alternative stimulation technique.

The group has been working together for about five years and got funding for this project in 2012.

 
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