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Addiction treatment with tDCS receives funding

The US foundation Wellcome LEAP is funding a research project at the CIMH in which addictive disorders are treated with weak electrical currents on the scalp, among other things.


It is estimated that 108 million people worldwide are addicted to alcohol, and almost 40 million have an addiction to illegal drugs. In 2019, 168,000 people worldwide died from alcohol abuse and it was a risk factor for a further 2.44 million deaths. Illicit drugs led to over 128,000 deaths in the same year. This underlines the urgent need for innovative approaches to addiction prevention and treatment. To help develop and introduce new technologies and methods, the US foundation Wellcome LEAP is supporting innovative research projects with a total of 50 million US dollars. A research project at the Central Institute of Mental Health (CIMH) under the direction of Prof. Dr. Sabine Vollstädt-Klein, head of the Neuroimaging of Addictive Behavior working group at the CIMH, and Dr. Sarah Gerhardt, research associate and Psychological Psychotherapist at the Clinic for Addictive Behavior and Addiction Medicine at the CIMH, is the only project in Germany to be funded by the foundation.


Modulating neuronal activity in the brain

In the project, patients with various addictive disorders are examined and additionally treated with transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) during their inpatient stay. This involves attaching electrodes to the scalp, which then emit weak electrical currents. The procedure has few side effects and aims to modulate neuronal activity in the brain. “In patients with addictive disorders, we hope that this modulation of the brain can better inhibit impulsive behavior, which beneficially contributes to abstinence. We are therefore investigating whether tDCS has a positive effect on this impulse inhibition and the success of the therapy and are also measuring brain wave patterns in order to understand how these effects come about,” explains Sabine Vollstädt-Klein. The procedure is already approved for depression, for example. One advantage is that tDCS is comparatively easy to use and can therefore also be used by patients independently at home.

Wellcome LEAP is part of the foundation Wellcome Trust. Established in 2020 by the Wellcome Trust as a US non-profit charitable organization with initial funding of USD 300 million, the LEAP funding programs target complex human health challenges with the aim of promoting breakthrough science and technology solutions.

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