Camilla Nord, UCL Institute of Neurology

The use of electrical brain stimulation as a treatment for depression 

Camilla joined the Clinical Neuroscience PhD programme at UCL Institute of Neurology in 2013, supported by a Brain Research UK PhD studentship.

Since completing her PhD in 2017, Camilla has taken up a post-doctoral appointment at the University of Cambridge. She is working in the Department of Psychiatry, where she continues to study the effects of brain stimulation on mental health disorders. .

The use of electrical brain stimulation as a treatment for depression

Over the past decade, a form of electrical brain stimulation known as transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) has been reported to be effective in treating depression, both alone and in combination with anti-depressant medication. tDCS stimulates electrical activity in targeted areas of the brain, but how this may work to alleviate depression is not understood.

During her PhD, Camilla set out to investigate the effects of tDCS on depression and to examine the changes in the brain and behaviour that underpin any mood changes.

She carried out a number of studies looking at the effects of tDCS, comparing its effects to antidepressant medication, and looking at how it works in conjunction with conventional psychological therapy. She also used brain imaging techniques to study activity in the area of the brain that is targeted by this electrical stimulation.

She led a clinical trial to test whether tDCS could enhance the effects of conventional NHS psychological therapy in depression. One of her most important findings was that she could use brain imaging to predict which patients would show the greatest benefit from tDCS. This represents the first biomarker discovered in a clinical trial for electrical brain stimulation and is a discovery that – subject to replication – could be used in the clinic to enable personalisation of therapy, identifying those patients most likely to respond before allocating specific treatments.

What next for Camilla?

Through our PhD studentships, we aim to nurture the development of promising researchers who we hope will go on to develop long and illustrious careers in brain research becoming the next generation of research leaders. In this way we are investing in the future of brain research.

Not only did the funding support the important research that Camilla undertook during her PhD, which led to the publication of nine papers, but it has helped her along the path towards a career as an independent researcher.

Since completing her PhD, Camilla has taken up a post-doctoral appointment at the University of Cambridge. She is working in the Department of Psychiatry, testing the effects of another type of brain stimulation, transcranial magnetic stimulation, on traits related to alcohol addiction and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

In the future, she hopes to run her own lab that uses neuroscience techniques (such as brain stimulation and imaging techniques) to develop new treatment approaches for neuropsychiatric disorders.