Ultrasound waves may help mood
Ongoing research at the UA has produced encouraging results regarding the effects of ultrasounds on the human brain.
Based on multiple studies, researchers have found that ultrasound waves passing through the cranium can change the mood of a patient for a short period of time. Scientists believe that these findings may be important in the future when treating patients suffering from traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease, depression and other disorders.
The first clinical trial of ultrasounds on the human brain was led by Stuart Hameroff, director of the Center for Consciousness Studies and professor emeritus in the departments of anesthesiology and psychology at the UA.
“It is the first published paper on transcranial effects of ultrasound on mood,” Hameroff said. His study was published in the journal Brain Stimulation.
Hameroff’s interest in transcranial ultrasounds was sparked by a study that involved the application of ultrasound waves through the skulls of animals, causing behavioral and psychological changes.
Because ultrasound waves are emitted in megahertz frequencies, Hameroff said he thought that ultrasounds could possibly stimulate microtubules, which could affect mood, cognition and consciousness in humans.
The first to undergo the ultrasound was Hameroff himself, who made the decision to be the first human test subject.
“I put it for about 15 seconds and I didn’t feel anything. I put it down and I said, ‘Well, that’s no big deal,’” Hameroff said.
“But about a minute later I started to feel funny, actually very good. I got kind of a pleasant ringing throughout my brain. I felt kind of energized, a little bit buzzed, and I felt really good for about an hour.”
Hameroff’s experience with the ultrasound fueled trials of the transcranial ultrasounds on chronic pain patients at Kino Community Hospital, which showed a general uplift in mood for the patients.
Jay Sanguinetti, a psychology graduate student at the UA, was curious about how the results would differ if the subjects were healthy, so she decided to replicate the experiment with undergraduate students.
“In the psychology department, we have access to a pool of undergraduates who basically get research credit for taking [Psychology] 101,” Sanguinetti said. “So any given semester, we have about a thousand or so undergraduate population that we can tap into.”
The first study aimed to determine which ultrasound frequency would produce the greatest effects on patients.
“We gave them a baseline, so before stimulation, we gave them stimulation, post 15 [minutes] and post 30 [minutes],” Sanguinetti added. “We were giving them mood scales all throughout.”
The next step for studies of this nature will be a collaboration of university scientists with a company called Neurotrek. The experiment will explore the effects of a wearable ultrasound device on patients.
“We’re going to record from about 300-400 undergraduates this semester,” Sanguinetti said. “We teamed up with a group out of Silicon Valley. They’ve created a device that’s specific for brain stimulation for ultrasound.”
Although previous studies have shown significant effects of ultrasounds on mood, Hameroff believes ultrasounds could affect more conditions as well. If microtubules are indeed what is being influenced in these scenarios, neuronal growth could also be affected by ultrasounds, which could aid in treating traumatic brain injury patients and Alzheimer’s disease.
A Brain Ultrasound Group is currently being constructed and will use ultrasounds to try to treat traumatic brain injury, depression, Alzheimer’s, post-traumatic stress disorder, concussions and more.
“There are a lot of questions, but we think that since this is cheap, safe and noninvasive, we may as well try,” Hameroff said.