Non-invasive brain stimulation, combined with cognitive training, could significantly improve symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children, according to new research jointly led by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, University of Surrey and the Assuta-Ashdod University Medical Center.
The research was funded by a grant from the Israel Innovation Authority to Tech Innosphere Engineering Ltd.
In a clinical trial involving 23 unmedicated children (6 to 12 years old) with ADHD, researchers set out to find out whether a novel form of brain stimulation that involves a mild electrical current on the brain through two electrodes, during cognitive training, can improve the symptoms of ADHD.
After a two-week program of brain stimulation, the study found that 55 percent of children showed significant clinical improvements in ADHD symptoms, as reported by their parents. This was compared to 17 percent in the control group who received sham (placebo) brain stimulation, during cognitive training.
The study also found that these improvements were maintained three weeks after the end of the treatment, with 64 percent reporting clinically meaningful responses to the treatments. This is compared to 33 percent in the control group.
Dr Mor Nahum, co-lead of the study and Head of the Computerized Neurotherapy Lab at the Hebrew University where the study took place said, “This is an important first step in offering new therapeutic options for ADHD. Future studies, with larger and more varied samples, should help establish this as a viable therapy for ADHD, and help us understand the underlying mechanisms of the disorder.”
The findings suggest that a combination of transcranial direct current stimulation (tRNS), which is shown to be safe with minimal side effects, has the potential to transform the lives of children and their families, according to Professor Roi Cohen Kadosh, co-lead of the study, head of the School of Psychology and Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Surrey.
“The results from this proof-of-concept study, together with previous results we received using tRNS, increase our confidence that in the future non-invasive brain stimulation may be able to provide an alternative to medication as a treatment pathway for children,” Kadosh said.
He noted, however, that the “important” test will be the results from a multi-center clinical trial with a larger sample soon to be started by the same team.
If successful, the approach will be approved as a medical device for ADHD by the United States Food and Drug Administration, he said.
ADHD is a brain condition that affects people’s attention, activity, and impulsivity. Around 5.2 percent of children worldwide have the neurodevelopmental condition, which usually manifests itself with children struggling with focus, memory, and self-control.
Following the treatment, the research team also noticed changes in the children’s brain electrical activity patterns that continued even at the three-week follow-up.
Professor Itai Berger, co-lead of the study, Head of Pediatric Neurology previously at Hadassah, currently at Assuta-Ashdod University Medical Center who recruited the study participants added, “If the results will be replicated in future larger studies we will be able to offer a novel, promising non-invasive, and safe treatment to large number of children and their families not only in the field of ADHD but in other neurodevelopmental disorders.”
The study was published by Translational Psychiatry https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-023-02547-7