Crippling Depression: Is there a SAINT in your future?

new mental health treatments

Crippling depression: if you’re heavily laden, wouldn’t it be nice to have a SAINT in your future? It’s always good to see what’s up in the treatment pipeline. I’ve had my eyes on something very hopeful for a while and it’s time to bring it your way. Let’s talk about Stanford Accelerated Intelligent Neuromodulation Therapy – SAINT…

Of note, study participants typically began to feel better within days of starting SAINT. That’s huge, and the study team hopes SAINT can be used to quickly treat individuals who have reached their crisis point.

Not too awful long ago, I bumped into a Stanford Medicine news release that nearly knocked me off my chair. The headline read “Stanford researchers devise treatment that relieved depression in 90% of participants in small study.”

See what I mean?

The April 6, 2020 release provided the scoop on a new form of magnetic brain stimulation known as Stanford Accelerated Intelligent Neuromodulation Therapy – SAINT. What I read was fascinating and hopeful; however, since the release stated a larger, double-blind trial was soon to be conducted, I decided to wait for the results before bringing you the story.

Lo and behold, another Stanford Medicine news release appeared on October 28, 2021. Its headline read “Experimental depression treatment is nearly 80% effective in controlled study.” The double-blind study had been conducted. Okay, the efficacy dropped by 10%, but are you kidding me? I was more than in.

It’s time to bring you the exciting news…

What is SAINT?

Okay, Stanford Accelerated Intelligent Neuromodulation Therapy – SAINT – is a more intensive, individualized form of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which we’ve reviewed here on Chipur. The TMS treatment approved for depression by the FDA in the US and NICE in the UK requires six weeks of once-daily sessions. Some 50% of patients report improvement and right at 33% experience remission.

In developing SAINT, the Stanford research team wanted to amp up the power of TMS. Upon discovering that 1,800 pulses per session (600 for traditional TMS) was safely being used for the treatment of neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, the team went with it. When they found studies that indicated accelerating treatment could improve outcomes, the team decided to go with 10 sessions per day of 10-minute treatments with 50-minute breaks in between. That generated depression relief in an average of three days.

depression brain anatomy

The fMRI image shows the DLPFC activated during a working memory task. The colors show changes in oxygenation.

Then it was on to more precisely targeting the stimulation. In traditional TMS, stimulation is aimed at where the brain’s dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) is most often located. The DLPFC regulates executive functions, such as working memory, attention, planning, and reasoning.

The team used MRI to actually locate the individual’s DLPFC, as well as a specific subregion that has a working relationship with the subgenual cingulate – an area known to be overactive in people experiencing depression.

Again, safety: participants’ cognitive functioning was tested before and after treatment. Not only were no negative effects found, the participants’ ability to switch between mental tasks and solving problems improved. That is a classic sign of depression remission.

SAINTS’ reported side effects have been temporary fatigue, headaches, and some discomfort during treatment.

The team plans to review the efficacy of SAINT in the treatment of other conditions, including OCD, substance use disorders, and autism spectrum disorders.

Fabulous study results

i don't want to take meds for depression

“This SAINT thing is fascinating and so very hopeful. You have my attention.”

It’s important for us to review the workings and results of the double-blind study discussed in the October 28, 2021 Stanford Medicine news release. The study was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry on October 29.

There were 29 study participants, ages 22 to 80, who suffered from depression for an average of nine years. The participants had used meds, but they either didn’t work or stopped working.

Half of the participants were treated with SAINT – administered as described in the previous section – while the others received a SAINT mimicking placebo treatment. After five days of treatment, 78.6% of the SAINT group reported they were no longer depressed. The team used several standard methods of evaluation.

Within four weeks post-treatment, 12 of the 14 SAINT treated participants improved – 11 of them meeting remission criteria. From the placebo group, two of the 15 met remission criteria.

Of note, study participants typically began to feel better within days of starting SAINT. That’s huge, and the study team hopes SAINT can be used to quickly treat individuals who have reached their crisis point. And the team would really like to see SAINT available in emergency departments and psychiatric units to treat emotional/mental emergencies.

Think about how fabulous all of this is. And I love the fact that it’s a non-med treatment. Well, let’s look forward to near-future developments.

By the way, I’ve provided links to the Stanford Medicine news releases below. Each contains a touching personal SAINTS great outcome story.

Hold on to hope

If you’re doing all you can to survive crippling depression, is it hopeful to know about SAINT? I understand it isn’t immediately available, but the fact that it’s in the pipeline – and generating remission – is really encouraging news.

Is there a SAINT in your future? Hold on to hope.

SAINT image: Stanford Medicine, Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex image: ResearchGate

Stanford Medicine’s April 6, 2020 news release   Stanford Medicine’s October 28, 2021 news release  Both releases were written by Mandy Erickson, associate editor in the Office of Communications – and they’re well worth reading.

Plenty more about depression, anxiety, stress, and more in hundreds of Chipur articles. Peruse the titles.