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Groundbreaking new magnetic brain procedure used for the first time in SA to treat depression


Advances in brain science set to “revolutionise” treatment of psychiatric conditions


A ground breaking new non-invasive procedure, which uses a magnetic charge to stimulate targeted areas of the brain to treat conditions such as depression and anxiety, has been introduced for the first time on the African continent at Netcare Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg.


The first few patients have undergone the procedure, known in medical terms as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), for the treatment of major depression, anxiety, neurological injury and tinnitus. This was done at the new treatment centre, called Connectomix, which has been established at the hospital by neurosurgeon, Dr Christos Profyris.


The areas of the brain that are targeted for TMS treatment are determined by means of advanced brain mapping. Both the brain mapping and the TMS procedure are non-invasive, as neither of these involve surgery of any kind.


“By using functional magnetic resonance imaging [fMRI] technology with especially developed and highly advanced software, we are now able to observe brain activity in real time and develop a sophisticated computer generated brain function map for each individual. The brain function map enables us to understand the individual’s brain physiology better and we can therefore more precisely target the TMS treatment for each particular person,” Dr Profyris explains.


“TMS is then used to stimulate specifically targeted areas of the brain by means of an electric current which is passed through a magnetic coil to create a high-intensity magnetic field. Outstanding results have been achieved in relieving the symptoms of depression and anxiety in selected patients,” says Dr Profyris, who has extensively researched and trained in brain mapping and the TMS procedure in Australia.


According to Dr Profyris, the development of brain mapping techniques, and tools such as fMRI, are “revolutionising our understanding of the brain and how it works” and enabling medical science to develop more tailored treatments for TMS.


“When I first commenced studying brain mapping with TMS in Australia last year, I was at first sceptical that it could provide a meaningful therapy to people with neurological injury, severe depression or other psychiatric conditions. While TMS is not effective in treating everyone with these conditions, we are however seeing it positively impacting the lives of many individuals.


”Brain mapping with TMS is becoming a meaningful treatment option, particularly for individuals whose depression has not responded to the traditional treatments available and are consequently experiencing treatment-resistant depression.”


Dr Profyris says brain mapping with TMS is furthermore showing immense promise for the treatment of certain brain injuries and other psychiatric conditions such as addiction, fibromyalgia and Alzheimer’s disease.


The TMS procedure is done with a special TMS coil that is simply positioned on the person’s head over a mapped area to either excite or inhibit selected areas of the brain underneath the coil. It is undertaken on an outpatient basis and usually involves several repeat sessions per day over a three-day period. Side effects are generally mild and may include a headache, facial twitches and/or light-headedness, all of which usually improve shortly after every session.


Dr Profyris completed a Fellowship in Australia, where he studied brain mapping as part of a brain tumour fellowship focused on keyhole brain surgery. There he developed a deep interest in brain mapping and recognised the possibilities of using TMS as a therapy for neurological and psychiatric conditions such as depression. He returned to South Africa in 2019, and is practising as a neurosurgeon at Netcare Milpark and Netcare Linksfield hospitals. He has established the Connectomix treatment centre in association with Netcare and Netcare Milpark Hospital.


“Netcare Milpark Hospital is delighted to have partnered with such a pioneering medical practitioner as Dr Profyris to bring this treatment to South Africa for the first time,” concludes Marc van Heerden, general manager of the hospital.

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