Exploring TMS with Ara Chackerian; A Non-Invasive Mental Health Treatment That Targets the Brain

ara Chackerian TMS

We all know that debilitating fears, lingering depression, and crippling addictions are “all in our head,” as the common phraseology goes. So, it only makes sense to target the head—specifically, the brain—when it comes to curing these disorders.

A budding technology, known as TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation), targets specific areas of the brain related to the particular psychological and physiological malady.

Though finding its feet most recently, largely because it is becoming more affordable, scientists and practitioners started implementing this technology about ten years ago. The main thrust early in its development focused on depression, though severe anxiety, addiction, and even insomnia are now finding cures through TMS sessions.

A session consists of placing an electromagnetic coil against the scalp and near the forehead. According to the Mayo Clinic, the electromagnet painlessly delivers a pulse to the brain that stimulates nerve cells related to a person’s moods. The biology of why TMS works, according to the clinic, is not completely understood. However, through repetitive magnetic pulses, the technique eases depression symptoms and improves mood, say Mayo researchers.

Physicians know where to aim these stimulators in the brain because TMS originated as a means for scientists to understand the roles each part of the active brain play. Researchers discovered that specific portions of the brain affect our moods, anxieties, compulsions (e.g., addictions and similar behaviors), migraines, optical capacities, and even cognition or learning.

Magnetic impulses stimulate the necessary chemical activity in a selected portion of the brain to counter such disorders.

As the utility of TMS widens, so does its access, mostly due to coverage for this treatment by Medicare and most health insurers, according to a report in the Boston Globe. Because these providers are willing to cover about $10,000 or more for a TMS treatment when medications and psychotherapy fail, private practices can purchase the equipment and open TMS-only clinics, the Globe reports.

Philanthropists and healthcare investors provide another shot in the arm for the widespread practice of TMS. Ara Chackerian, a general partner of TMS Health Solutions and an investor in transformative healthcare, as well as non-profit organizations committed to youth development and education, realize the promising future of TMS.

Chackerian and other healthcare entrepreneurs know that 40 percent of those suffering from clinical depression are likely to not respond to conventional medication for the disorder. This type of depression is known as treatment-resistant depression (TRD). It requires an alternative tack to conquer depression. Chackerian and others advocate TMS because it is a safe, non-invasive, and effective treatment for TRD patients.

Investors in this new technology believe it is only in its infant stages of development and application. Chackerian and others are therefore eager to support startups in this TMS industry.

The technology’s application to drug addiction, for example, is one of the most recent breakthroughs for TMS, though it is still undergoing further study as a bona fide treatment. According to Science Mag, an Italian physician has treated over 300 addicts at his clinic through TMS methods.

Dr. Luigi Gallimberti applies the coil to the scalp just as it is done for depression patients. Electric pulses then reach the brain’s cortex to stimulate electrical currents there. The doctor then changes the level of neuronal firing via “cold” and “hot” circuits.

Meanwhile, the Medical University of South Carolina, National Institute of Psychiatry in Mexico City, and Baltimore’s NIDA are all examining the treatment’s efficacy for curbing addiction, according to the Science Mag article.

Its effectiveness for “unlearning” particular anxieties—such as a fear of heights—is still being tested, but the outlook is encouraging. Scientists have known for some time that targeting the frontal lobe of the brain with magnetic stimulation can reduce a person’s anxiety response, but new research from Germany takes TMS a step further by addressing a targeted anxiety.

In the case of acrophobia (fear of heights), a team at Würzburg University Hospital divided 39 acrophobic subjects into two groups—one being a control group that received fake TMS treatments. After two sessions, the group treated with the real TMS technology, just prior to a virtual reality simulation of standing at a dizzying height, exhibited reduced anxiety and avoidance symptoms when compared to the group receiving the faux treatment.

One of the researchers noted the benefits of the TMS therapy remained visible among the recipients of the real treatment for as long as three months. The findings of the German study indicate that combining TMS and virtual reality poses a way to “unlearn” a particular anxiety response.

Word is therefore out to spiders and clowns—primaries of arachnophobia and coulrophobia, respectively: Beware! TMS is onto you.


About Ara Chackerian

From an environmentally friendly production of teak in Nicaragua to business and home carbon footprint reduction to supporting and funding early-stage healthcare companies, Ara Charkenian epitomizes the term angel investor.

A marketing graduate of Florida State University, Ara has served as managing director of ASC Capital Holdings (a partner with TMS Health Solutions) and has served at the executive level for a host of healthcare enterprises, including BMC Diagnostics and PipelineRx, a national provider of telepharmacy services.

Ara demonstrates a deep commitment to giving back to the environment and society through non-profit endeavors spanning the globe.