Patrice Peterson of Baldwin participated in a clinical trial that used magnetic...

Patrice Peterson of Baldwin participated in a clinical trial that used magnetic brain stimulation to treat people with schizophrenia disorders. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

Scientists on Long Island are set to start a study that could help determine whether magnetic brain stimulation can help people with schizophrenia spectrum disorders.

The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research in Manhasset received a $3.4 million grant to fund the study, which focuses on the use of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, known as rTMS, to help social cognition — how people perceive themselves and others in social situations. The lack of social cognition is a common problem among people with these disorders, experts said.

“This can cause people to have a hard time developing relationships and maintaining jobs," said Dr. Anil Malhotra, co-director of the Institute of Behavioral Science at Feinstein. "Our hope is by targeting a specific circuit in the brain that we believe is involved in social cognitive function, we can improve it.”

Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation is a non-invasive procedure that involves putting an electrical coil against the head of an individual. The coil emits rapidly alternating magnetic currents into a targeted area of the skull, inducing electrical activity in the brain, Malhotra said. It is often used in conjunction with medications.

“The brain is actually an electrical organ made of multiple circuits,” Malhotra said. “You can either turn on, turn up or turn down the activity of those circuits.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved rTMS as a treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder and depression. Clinical trials, like the one at Feinstein, are researching how it could help people with other mental health disorders.

During the treatments, which last about 30 minutes, patients sit in a reclining chair with their head placed against the coil. Some people may experience side effects, such as headaches or scalp tingling and, in rare cases, seizures.

For Patricia Peterson, of Baldwin, who has schizoaffective disorder, sessions with rTMS during a smaller pilot study at Feinstein two years ago was an important step in her long journey to mental health wellness.

“It was a really positive experience,” said Peterson, 40, who works in the field of community mental health. She said after all her other work in therapy and with medication, the rTMS kind of “sealed the deal.”

It’s a journey that started when Peterson was a college student in 2003 with big plans and a busy schedule. But then she experienced her first time feeling “detached from reality.”

“There was a disassociation in my body and mind from what was really and accurately going on in my immediate environment,” she said. “I used to love music videos — back when they used to make music videos — and I would take the meaning of them to the point that I was thinking it was about me. I didn’t hear voices or anything. I just took things personally in an empath-type way.”

Peterson was diagnosed with schizophrenia and received treatment, but she still struggled. It wasn’t until 2013 when she was properly diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder after being referred to doctors at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, Queens. She said her new diagnosis made more sense because it included some symptoms of schizophrenia along with the mood disorder of depression.

Medication, therapy and structured programs helped Peterson manage her condition, and she said she continues to thrive today.

“Recovery really is possible,” Peterson said. “There are many more resources and technology right now than we've ever had.”

Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation is different and less invasive than electroconvulsive therapy, which involves giving a patient anesthesia while receiving electrical stimulation of the brain. ECT, once referred to as electroshock therapy, has proved to be helpful for patients with severe depression or bipolar disorder and is considered safer than it was decades ago when treatments sometimes led to memory loss and broken bones.

Dr. Irving Reti, director of the Brain Stimulation Program and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, said treatments like rTMS are typically given to people who don't respond well to medications or psychotherapy.

"They are often more effective than conventional pharmacology," Reti said. "They also can be targeted in a manner that is much more specific than you can do with medications.”

Malhotra noted that having poor social cognition may have an even greater impact on people with schizoaffective disorders because unlike other symptoms, like hallucinations and delusions, it cannot be treated with medication.

"They have a hard time maintaining jobs because there can be a lot of social interaction," he said. "They are lonely, stuck at home and unemployed."

The $3.4 million grant from Wellcome, a global charitable foundation based in London, will allow researchers to study 100 people on Long Island and at a second site at the University of Toronto in Canada, Malhotra said.

Patients will undergo daily treatments that can last anywhere from five to 20 minutes for five weeks, said Dr. Miklos Argyelan, assistant professor at the Institute of Behavioral Science at Feinstein, who runs the rTMS program.

"It's almost like going to a gym," he said. "Instead of working on your muscles, you are working on your brain ... After a few weeks, people feel improvements and changes in their brain function such as more energy, a better outlook and better cognition."

Argyelan said the study also will help them determine why some patients respond well to the treatments while others don't respond at all.

Peterson said she hopes that sharing her story will help remove the stigma from mental health issues and help people keep an open mind about treatment.

“Sometimes misinformation keeps people from getting treatment and then they suffer in silence,” she said.

Scientists on Long Island are set to start a study that could help determine whether magnetic brain stimulation can help people with schizophrenia spectrum disorders.

The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research in Manhasset received a $3.4 million grant to fund the study, which focuses on the use of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, known as rTMS, to help social cognition — how people perceive themselves and others in social situations. The lack of social cognition is a common problem among people with these disorders, experts said.

“This can cause people to have a hard time developing relationships and maintaining jobs," said Dr. Anil Malhotra, co-director of the Institute of Behavioral Science at Feinstein. "Our hope is by targeting a specific circuit in the brain that we believe is involved in social cognitive function, we can improve it.”

Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation is a non-invasive procedure that involves putting an electrical coil against the head of an individual. The coil emits rapidly alternating magnetic currents into a targeted area of the skull, inducing electrical activity in the brain, Malhotra said. It is often used in conjunction with medications.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Researchers on Long Island received a $3.4 million grant to study whether repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) can help people with schizophrenia spectrum disorders improve their ability to navigate social situations, known as social cognition.

  • Lack of social cognition can prevent people with these disorders from forming relationships and being able to work.

  • Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation is a non-invasive procedure where the patient’s head is placed against an electrical coil that emits rapidly alternating magnetic currents, inducing electrical activity in the brain.

“The brain is actually an electrical organ made of multiple circuits,” Malhotra said. “You can either turn on, turn up or turn down the activity of those circuits.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved rTMS as a treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder and depression. Clinical trials, like the one at Feinstein, are researching how it could help people with other mental health disorders.

Dr. Miklos Argyelan, right, demonstrates a machine that uses magnetic brain...

Dr. Miklos Argyelan, right, demonstrates a machine that uses magnetic brain stimulation with clinical research coordinator Andrea Joanlanne at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Queens. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

During the treatments, which last about 30 minutes, patients sit in a reclining chair with their head placed against the coil. Some people may experience side effects, such as headaches or scalp tingling and, in rare cases, seizures.

'Recovery really is possible'

For Patricia Peterson, of Baldwin, who has schizoaffective disorder, sessions with rTMS during a smaller pilot study at Feinstein two years ago was an important step in her long journey to mental health wellness.

“It was a really positive experience,” said Peterson, 40, who works in the field of community mental health. She said after all her other work in therapy and with medication, the rTMS kind of “sealed the deal.”

It’s a journey that started when Peterson was a college student in 2003 with big plans and a busy schedule. But then she experienced her first time feeling “detached from reality.”

“There was a disassociation in my body and mind from what was really and accurately going on in my immediate environment,” she said. “I used to love music videos — back when they used to make music videos — and I would take the meaning of them to the point that I was thinking it was about me. I didn’t hear voices or anything. I just took things personally in an empath-type way.”

Patricia Peterson of Baldwin said sessions with rTMS two years ago was an...

Patricia Peterson of Baldwin said sessions with rTMS two years ago was an important step for her mental health wellness. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

Peterson was diagnosed with schizophrenia and received treatment, but she still struggled. It wasn’t until 2013 when she was properly diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder after being referred to doctors at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, Queens. She said her new diagnosis made more sense because it included some symptoms of schizophrenia along with the mood disorder of depression.

Medication, therapy and structured programs helped Peterson manage her condition, and she said she continues to thrive today.

“Recovery really is possible,” Peterson said. “There are many more resources and technology right now than we've ever had.”

Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation is different and less invasive than electroconvulsive therapy, which involves giving a patient anesthesia while receiving electrical stimulation of the brain. ECT, once referred to as electroshock therapy, has proved to be helpful for patients with severe depression or bipolar disorder and is considered safer than it was decades ago when treatments sometimes led to memory loss and broken bones.

Dr. Irving Reti, director of the Brain Stimulation Program and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, said treatments like rTMS are typically given to people who don't respond well to medications or psychotherapy.

"They are often more effective than conventional pharmacology," Reti said. "They also can be targeted in a manner that is much more specific than you can do with medications.”

Study on Long Island and Toronto 

Malhotra noted that having poor social cognition may have an even greater impact on people with schizoaffective disorders because unlike other symptoms, like hallucinations and delusions, it cannot be treated with medication.

"They have a hard time maintaining jobs because there can be a lot of social interaction," he said. "They are lonely, stuck at home and unemployed."

The $3.4 million grant from Wellcome, a global charitable foundation based in London, will allow researchers to study 100 people on Long Island and at a second site at the University of Toronto in Canada, Malhotra said.

Patients will undergo daily treatments that can last anywhere from five to 20 minutes for five weeks, said Dr. Miklos Argyelan, assistant professor at the Institute of Behavioral Science at Feinstein, who runs the rTMS program.

Dr. Miklos Argyelan is studying whether people with schizophrenia can benefit...

Dr. Miklos Argyelan is studying whether people with schizophrenia can benefit from magnetic brain stimulation. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

"It's almost like going to a gym," he said. "Instead of working on your muscles, you are working on your brain ... After a few weeks, people feel improvements and changes in their brain function such as more energy, a better outlook and better cognition."

Argyelan said the study also will help them determine why some patients respond well to the treatments while others don't respond at all.

Peterson said she hopes that sharing her story will help remove the stigma from mental health issues and help people keep an open mind about treatment.

“Sometimes misinformation keeps people from getting treatment and then they suffer in silence,” she said.

Animal cruelty case update … Riverhead farmland preservation … LIRR IOU invoices Credit: Newsday

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