Local neurosurgeon Dr. Mark Liker is making strides with brain stimulation therapy at his recently opened Valencia center, supporting brain health in patients of all ages.
Liker, who specializes in deep brain stimulation, or DBS, has always had a fascination with the different brain pathologies that impact people’s lives.
With the use of transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, therapy, Liker is able to stimulate brain cells the same way he would with DBS in a non-invasive way by using a series of magnetic pulses on the outside of the body.
“By modulating the circuits, you can change the outflow of the circuits … which is behavior,” Liker said. “I think this is the wave of the future.”
Now, he’s opened BrainStim Centers Inc., a therapeutic center using the innovative practice of TMS therapy to support brain health.
Research suggests that stimulating neurons in this manner restores normal brain activity, which can improve psychological issues, such as depression and anxiety.
While TMS may be considered a “new” treatment when compared to mental health practices such as psychotherapy or medication, it’s actually been around since the mid-’80s and garnered a proven track record in use as a treatment for depression — enough for approval for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The treatment has also shown therapeutic promise for conditions like anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, tremors, tinnitus and addiction, and has been approved for use in both chronic pain and tinnitus in Europe.
“I think this is a tremendous new paradigm, a new tool, that can help so many different people,” Liker added. “It’s really an exciting time for those of us in the brain field, because we have all these tools that we can pull together to be able to offer this kind of treatment for patients who otherwise really wouldn’t have many other options.”
BrainStim Centers uses Nexstim’s advanced SmartFocus TMS technology, which uses a 3D image of the patient’s brain from an MRI scan to precisely navigate treatment and more accurately pinpoint the therapy to personalized targets for each patient.
“Every patient is getting that individual, precise treatment,” said Crystal Martinez, office manager and neuromodulation specialist, adding that a camera and sensors pair the patient with the computer imaging of their brain. “It’s going to match up their real-time anatomy to the image.”
Most patients require a series of short, daily treatments over the course of several weeks.
An alternative treatment
Stevenson Ranch resident Karen Williams has suffered with depression for more than a decade since her son died in 2009.
Now, Williams is on her second round of TMS therapy treatment at the BrainStim Center and considers the treatment a “miracle” that has really helped her with her depression, she said.
“The first time I came here, I didn’t even want to live anymore … but it’s getting better,” Williams said, adding that she started noticing a change in herself almost right away after starting treatment. “It just lifts your spirits.”
Williams’ daughter Lisa Feltz agreed, adding that said she, too, saw a change in her mother within the first few days.
“You go to the psychiatrist, they give you this, they give you that. … You’re too tired, you feel like sleeping all the time,” Williams said of previous treatments she’s received over the years. “This is not like that at all. … It’s better than taking all those pills, believe me.”
Ashley, a 13-year-old patient whose name has been changed for privacy reasons, traveled from New York to be treated at the Valencia center.
“Before I was feeling anxiety constantly — I was all over the place and chaotic — but now I’m actually managing to stay in one place, which is honestly kind of insane because I didn’t know that was even possible,” she said.
Her mother has also seen a big improvement in Ashley, adding, “She’s definitely able to focus better, and is a lot calmer and happier.”
Creating a welcoming environment
Both Ashley and Williams agree that the treatment is both relaxing and calming.
“We put on aromatherapy for them, if they want to have music on, (etc.) to make it relaxing,” Martinez said. “We want them to feel comfortable as much as possible. It makes the whole process a lot easier and more tolerable for them.”
Aleksandra Borowska, a neuromodulation specialist at the center, agreed, adding that the center is a family, and each patient who comes in is welcomed into it.
“It’s just a very friendly environment here, and we want patients to feel that, too,” Borowska said.
The center also continues to support its patients upon completion of treatment, offering aftercare services, such as yoga or breathwork, added Martinez.
“It gives them a sense of comfort that it’s not the end of the road with us,” she said. “It’s a continued journey.”
Helping overall brain health
In addition to using the TMS therapy to treat depression, BrainStim Centers is using the technology, along with quantitative EEGs to measure brain wave activity in patients, to improve overall brain health in what Borowska considers “brain optimization.”
“It is a fairly new technology that allows us to look at the abnormal oscillations of the brain, and therefore once we can see that, we can treat the oscillations and attempt to bring them back to a more normal pattern,” Liker said, adding that these oscillations can present various symptoms from difficulty sleeping to loss of focus.
“It is very personalized because we know exactly which part of the brain might be under-stimulated or which part is over-stimulated for each individual,” Borowska said.
The improvement seen by patients receiving TMS treatment also typically correlates with the electro-physiological results shown on the EEG by the way that the brain has changed its oscillations through the course of treatment, Liker added.
“We’ve solved so many health problems (over the years) — the next frontier is the brain, and we haven’t delved into this very much yet,” Liker said. “This is a new frontier right now, so it’s really very exciting.”
For more information about BrainStim Centers Inc., visit brainstimcenters.com.