Magnets for depression relief
For folks who can't pull out of depression with the help of psychotherapy and medication, and who want to avoid the seizures and memory loss associated with electroconvulsive therapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is shaping up to be a less drastic blues buster. Cleared in 2008 for the treatment of major depression, the therapy uses a small electromagnet, which is placed on the scalp right behind the left forehead, and delivers a tiny electric current to the part of the brain linked to depression.
It seems to work, though researchers aren't certain how or why: A 2008 study in the Archives of General Psychiatry shows the therapy is almost three times more effective than a placebo in easing depression. And beyond tingling or slight pain in the scalp, the therapy has no serious side effects. The FDA-approved treatment is currently available in about 300 psychiatrists' offices around the country, and it's covered by a growing number of insurance companies.
Magnet therapy appears particularly helpful for older adults, according to researcher Mark George, M.D., a psychiatrist and neurologist at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. That's because many older patients are sensitive to side effects from medication, and electroconvulsive therapy is not an option for frailer patients.
Prostate cancer vaccine
Vaccines have been arming children's immune systems against diseases ranging from chicken pox to polio for decades. Today researchers are using the same technology to fight prostate cancer, with a new vaccine known as Provenge.
Doctors remove some of the patient's white blood cells, expose them to a protein found in prostate cancer, and then inject the cells back into the body, where they prime the immune system to attack the cancer. "Harnessing the body's immune system opens the door to a whole new kind of treatment for people with other kinds of cancer," says lead investigator Philip Kantoff, M.D., the chief clinical research officer at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Although Provenge does not cure prostate cancer, the vaccine reduced patients' overall risk of death by 24 percent in a three-year period in a recent multisite study. Reported side effects — chills, fever, headache, joint aches, and back pain — usually disappeared after a few days.
The drug was approved last year for patients with prostate cancers that have metastasized and have stopped responding to hormone treatments.