Schizophrenia trial to ‘turn down’ unwanted voices and ‘turn up’ thinking

NeuRA researchers are testing the use of mild electrical stimulation to treat symptoms of schizophrenia.

“Unwanted voices and thinking problems are symptoms of schizophrenia that often do not improve with current antipsychotic medication treatment,” says Neuroscience Research Australia’s Dr Tom Weickert, the senior researcher in this study.

“We are testing a new type of brain stimulation treatment called transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) that might help in these two important problem areas,” he says.

In tDCS, a researcher places electrodes on the scalp and applies a very mild electrical current to the front of the brain, and a mild negative electrical current to the side of the brain, on opposite sides of the head.
“The stimulation is very weak, and amounts to two milliamps,” says Dr Weickert. “Some people feel it as a tingling on the scalp while others may not feel the stimulation at all.”

The theory behind tDCS is that the electrical stimulation will help ‘turn down’ the activity of nerve cells on the side of the brain that produces unwanted voices, and ‘turn up’ the activity of nerve cells in the front of the brain that are used for thinking and motivation.

Participants will receive tDCS for 20 minutes, five days a week for four weeks and will continue to take their antipsychotic medication as usual. They will also be asked to complete pencil and paper and computerised tests to see if the technique is having an effect.

The team is currently recruiting people with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder between 18 and 50 years of age to participate in this study. Participants will be reimbursed for their time and for out-of-pocket expenses.

“Our hope for this trial is that some people with schizophrenia will be able to experience relief from the unwanted voices that harass them regularly. We also hope they will experience improvement in their thinking abilities and motivation so that they can go on and live a more healthy life.”