Venture out to expand availability of depression treatment

Dr. Robert Sammons demonstrates transcranial magnetic stimulation at Rocky Mountain TMS in Grand Junction. TMS uses highly focused magnetic pulses to stimulate the brain in a region associated with mood regulation to relieve symptoms of major depression. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)
Dr. Robert Sammons demonstrates transcranial magnetic stimulation at Rocky Mountain TMS in Grand Junction. TMS uses highly focused magnetic pulses to stimulate the brain in a region associated with mood regulation to relieve symptoms of major depression. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Dr. Robert Sammons counts major depression among the worst conditions he treats because of the debilitating effects and limited quality of life those who suffer from depression experience.

While medications remain the primary means of treating severe depression, they don’t always work. That’s why the Grand Junction psychiatrist has turned to a procedure that uses magnetic pulses to relieve the symptoms of depression.

Sammons has joined with Chris Blackburn as partners in  Rocky Mountain TMS, a venture they hope will expand the availability of transcranial magnetic stimulation across not only Western Colorado, but also the Western United States.

Blackburn, an entrepreneur who previously operated restaurants in Grand Junction, said he was looking for a position in which he could not only continue to  work for himself, but also help people. TMS, Blackburn said, offers the potential to change lives. “It’s a good motivator to work hard.”

While Sammons oversees TMS procedures on the clinical side of the venture, Blackburn handles administration and development on the business side. It’s a model Blackburn said other doctors can replicate in offering TMS to their patients.

Sammons said TMS delivers a targeted and pulsed magnetic field similiar to a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine to stimulate an area of the brain that’s underactive in depression.

Sammons said TMS is similar in its objectives in treating depression to electroconvulsive therapy, except that TMS requires no anesthesia, doesn’t induce seizures or result in memory loss.

Rather, TMS offers a noninvasive way to stimulate the brain with what are usually minimal side effects and no interactions with medications, he said.

A single treatment takes 37 minutes, during which time the patient lies comfortably in a reclining chair. Patients hear a clicking sound and might feel a tapping sensation on their heads.  Treatments usually are administered five days a week for four to six weeks.

TMS must be prescribed and is available only to treat patients with major depression who’ve failed to experience substantial relief from medications. “We’re treating the worst of the worst,” Sammons said.

The probability of a reduction in symptoms decreases each time medication fails to treat depression, Sammons said.

But clinical trials have demonstrated TMS can alleviate symptoms of depression. One in two patients improved significantly and one in three patients were free of symptoms after six weeks of treatment.

Sammons said successful TMS  therapy doesn’t replace the need for continued medication, but could help to reduce the amount of medication a patient requires to alleviate symptoms of depression.  And that, in turn, could reduce what are sometimes the serious side effects of those medications, he added.

Sammons said there’s also the possibility TMS someday could be used to treat other conditions. He said he’s interested in researching the potential for using TMS to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

Blackburn said he’s been talking to doctors, hospitals and other health care providers about increasing the availability of TMS across not only Western Colorado, but also the Western United States.

There’s been interest in setting up ventures similar to Rocky Mountain TMS in Idaho and other locations, Blackburn added.

There’s great potential to help alleviate suffering given the scope of depression, Blackburn said.

By one estimate, 14 million people in the United States suffer from depression and 4 million of those people don’t benefit from standard antidepressant medications.

For more information about transcranial magnetic stimulation and Rocky Mountain TMS, call 261-4649 or visit the Web site at www.rockymountaintms.com.