Ottawa company seeks trial for depression treatment

A medical tech start-up in Ottawa is claiming that an upcoming clinical trial will prove its treatments can help patients dealing with depression – without drugs.

NeuroQore, founded by Carleton University alumnus Mehran Talebinejad, is marketing a painless and non-invasive treatment technique, called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). They’ve touted it as a more effective alternative to pharmaceuticals, but without the results of a clinical trial to back the claims up, it’s impossible to say whether or not its remission rates will be higher.

“It’s a concept, but it hasn’t been proven yet,” says Dr. Zul Merali, the Scientific Director of the University of Ottawa Institute of Mental Health Research. “The technology by NeuroQore is looking at a modified way of applying transcranial magnetic stimulation. But to date, the treatment by itself has not been shown to be superior to drug therapy.”

Carleton University alumnus Mehrean Talebinejad claims  his NeuroQore’s transcranial magnetic stimulation is painless and non-invasive.

The treatment, he says, has actually been around for a while. At its most basic level, TMS interrupts the communication between certain neurons in the brain, and incites activities in others. In that sense, he says, it functions in a way that’s similar to how antidepressant drugs alter certain circuits in the brain. However, there are some fundamental differences between NeuroQore’s model, and pharmacological approaches.

“The transcranial magnetic stimulation essentially uses that technology to alter the activity of a particular region of the brain,” he says. “That will then have a longer-term impact on the rest of the circuit.”

Another key difference, according to NeuroQore, would be the cost of the procedure. Although TMS isn’t new, the costs associated with the treatment have made it an unrealistic option for most patients, especially since it isn’t currently covered by OHIP. But Merali says that the new treatments will likely try to sidestep those costs by reducing the amount of therapy needed to achieve results.

“You can deliver more stimuli through this methodology than the previous ones,” Merali says. “If you needed, hypothetically, 20 sessions with the previous methodology, you may need, say, five sessions with this methodology. So the number of stimuli that can be applied can be decreased a lot, and thereby the cost can go down.”

He says that results from NeuroQore’s first clinical trial are expected about a year from now, and only then will scientists be able to judge if its technology will be a viable, and affordable, alternative to current treatments. The company is currently in the process of fundraising for the trial, following a pilot study at the Royal Ottawa Hospital.

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