Saturday, December 03, 2016

19th Century DIY Brain Stimulation

Fig. 4 (Wexler, 2016). Lindstrom's Electro-Medical Apparatus (ca. 1895), courtesy of the Bakken.

Think the do-it-yourself transcranial direct current stimulation movement (DIY tDCS) is a technologically savvy and hip creation of 21st century neural engineering? MIT graduate student Anna Wexler has an excellent and fun review of late 19th and early 20th century electrical stimulation devices, namely the “medical battery” designed for home use.

Fig. 2 (Wexler, 2016). An advertisement for one of the few consumer medical batteries that used only direct current (1881, Frank Leslie's Newspaper). Courtesy of the Bakken.

Some highlights (Wexler, 2016):
  • The use of a portable electrotherapy device known as the “medical battery” bears a number of striking similarities to the modern-day use of tDCS.
  • Many features related to the home use tDCS—a do-it-yourself movement, anti-medical establishment themes, conflicts between lay and professional usage—are a repetition of themes that occurred a century ago with regard to the medical battery.
  • Viewed in historical context, the contemporary use of electrical stimulation at home is not unusual, but rather the latest wave in a series of ongoing attempts by lay individuals to utilize electricity for therapeutic purposes.

One notable difference, however, is that contemporary devices make the distinction between cranial and non-cranial stimulation, whereas the medical battery could be applied to anything that ails you: headache, backache, kidney pain, “female weakness”, “premature decline” in men, indigestion, you name it.

Old timey devices designed specifically for the head were unusual, but here are some figures from the patent for a jaunty derby hat that houses a collection of medical batteries. Alas, it never went to market.

Fig. 7. (Wexler, 2016). A medical battery mounted into a hat as depicted in a 1904 patent by George. F. Webb.

Webb (1904): “My invention relates to batteries, my more particular object being to produce a light and compact battery suitable for medical use and capable of ready adjustment without regard to the amount of current to be supplied.”

Clearly, the precursors to Silicon Valley venture capitalists missed out on a great investment. OpenBCI Derby Kickstarter, anyone?

link via @DIYtDCS


Wexler, A. (2016). Recurrent themes in the history of the home use of electrical stimulation: Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) and the medical battery (1870–1920) Brain Stimulation DOI: 10.1016/j.brs.2016.11.081

Sleek and stylish design, then and now.

Fig. 8. (Wexler, 2016). Left: advertisement for the Konzentrator, circa 1927–1928, courtesy of the American Medical Association. Right: Thync electrical stimulation device, 2015, courtesy of Thync, Inc.

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At December 03, 2016 9:14 AM, Anonymous Albert Gjedde said...

There is evidence that almost all forms of electrical stimulation of brain tissue, from ECT and DBS to TMS, vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), and tDCS, result in release of norepinephrine that focuses brain responsiveness by raising signal-to-noise ratios. What is dangerous about the public availability is the possibility of addiction and seizures.

At December 03, 2016 4:17 PM, Blogger Hellhound said...

In my case, electrical stimulation has stopped my seizures. I went from daily seizures to no seizures for 1.5 years now

At December 03, 2016 5:54 PM, Blogger Smut Clyde said...

It was easier to conduct TCS research in the 18th century when you could still hire Disembodied Levitating Hands as lab assistants.

At December 03, 2016 6:03 PM, Blogger Smut Clyde said...

The use of TCL to release norepinephrine and improve neural performance of brains that have been separated from the body was particularly forward-looking.

At April 04, 2017 1:53 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Should electrical stimulation be a substitute for dealing with complications over certain drugs? Why is electrical stimulation not used today in peoples homes if it is such a great invention?


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