The Global SOF Foundation met Dr. Erik Won and the Brain Treatment Center (BTC) a few years ago, when we heard some buzz about the work he and his team were doing with Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Based on the work going on at the BTC and input from the SOF community, the GSF’s SOF Imperatives for 2017 included the following statement:
“Direct the DoD to address improved access for active duty and retired military personnel to innovative, emerging technologies…that demonstrate effective treatment options for post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma, chronic pain, and opiate addiction.”
Ultimately, the effort of many resulted in Congressional Bill, H.R. 1162, “No Hero Left Untreated.” The bill would establish a pilot program within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to utilize a promising neurologic treatment option for mental trauma called magnetic EEG/EKG guided resonance therapy.
At that time, over 400 veterans had received the therapy and reported “significant improvement in symptoms associated with PTS and TBI in both clinical practice and research settings.”
2017 SOF Slam at the Global SOF Symposium
To increase visibility on to the subject within the community, Dr. Won kindly agreed to come give a SOF Slam–a TED-Talk like presentation–at our 2017 Global SOF Symposium in Tampa. He has a wealth of interesting knowledge on the subject, but focused his talk on “Treating Traumatic Brain Injuries.”
The crowd was blown away by this 30-minute presentation, in which Dr. Won talked about a treatment that he was initially ”very skeptical” about. However, he told us that he was quickly made into a believer once he saw the dramatic results that recipients were having–and having quickly.
What Dr. Won described is a non-pharmaceutical, non-invasive technology called Magnetic e-Resonance Therapy (MeRT), which “uses brainwave analysis to construct an image of neuronal communication activity.” The brain mapping technology allows the team to provide a personalized protocol for “non-invasive neuromodulation.”
The delivery of that treatment then involves placing an electromagnetic coil over targeted areas of the head, which then emit “magnetic pulses at specific frequencies that stimulate brain tissue and encourage healthy brain communication.” If that sounds complicated (#science), you can visit the Brain Treatment Center (BTC) online to learn about this unique process.
As non-scientists, the real grab in this presentation was the results. He provided several Veteran-specific case studies, showing individuals who suffered TBI and/or PTSD from combat situations. The improvements that the individuals showed were impressive, and included better sleep and relaxation, improved ability to concentrate, enhanced mental clarity, and a greater ability to cope with stress. As a result of these improvements, the individuals’ family, work, and social lives improved vastly.
In another noteworthy part of his talk, Dr. Won discussed a pilot study (double-blind, randomized, sham-controlled), they conducted with a control group receiving a “placebo” treatment and a treatment group receiving MeRT, The improvements to the real group were drastic, while the placebo group saw little to no results. The results were so significant that the team conducting the study actually started to feel bad about it, and began administering the real treatment to the control group as well halfway through the trial.
This data was presented at the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) and the Society for Brain Mapping and Therapeutics (SBMT). You could clearly see the point where the placebo group started to receive the real treatment as well (Group 1: where the blue line becomes red…lower PCL-M scores represents less PTSD symptoms), and they too began to see drastic improvements in their quality of life. Very cool!
Watching Interest in MeRT Grow
That presentation was in February 2017, but the GSF has kept in touch with Dr. Won over the past two years to stay up-to-date on this ground-breaking treatment.
A year later, in early 2018, Dr. Won gave us some exciting updates that included the following milestones:
- A US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS), and Newport Brain Research Laboratory (NBRL) clinical trial had officially started, with patients being enrolled at MacDill AFB and the BTC’s San Diego facility. The main focus of this trial was evaluating the efficacy of MeRT for TBI and concussion in Veterans in hopes of securing an FDA clearance
- A Tinker AFB clinical trial focused on PTSD had been expanded to include MacDill AFB and USSOCOM personnel
- The USC Center for Neurorestoration had a clinical trial on ADHD that was also ongoing.
Lastly, Dr. Won shared with us that the BTC had the privilege of treating a USAF Pararescueman (PJ), struggling after multiple deployments. On neurocognitive testing, he was found to be two standard deviations above the norm across the board except in cognitive processing speed, where he was two standard deviations below normal. This deficit prompted a referral to the BTC, where they had the opportunity to treat him.
When he returned to command he was re-tested and found to be a full standard deviation above normal for cognitive processing speed (a three standard deviation improvement), felt like himself again, and also scored his best marksmanship scores ever….
Results like this have led to a growing interest in MeRT from a performance perspective as well.
Getting the Bill…but the good kind!
The GSF got a great Christmas present in the form of an update from Dr. Won! He let us know that the VA Bill, H.R. 1162 was passed into law–even approved unanimously by both the House and Senate.
H.R. 1162, the “No Hero Left Untreated Act,” requires Veteran’s Affairs (VA) to carry out a pilot program to provide access to magnetic EEG/EKG-guided resonance therapy to veterans with certain health care diagnoses.”
The bill was a bit smaller than originally designed as it was an unfunded bill, but will support 50 Veterans in two different VA sites. Dr. Won called this a “tremendous win that will allow us to provide better access and treatment to more veterans.”
Another update is that the USSOCOM trial is planning to expand to Camp Lejeune and Camp Pendleton in 2019 to increase throughput/recruiting and expedite achievement of data end-points.
“We could not have done this without the steadfast support from every one of you!! Thank you so very much for all that you’ve done over the years,” Dr. Won told us in his email. And while we did little in comparison to what Dr. Won and his team have done, we have been honored to support this life-saving technology and process.
We look forward to what 2019 will bring and how it will help MeRT and other Veteran-supporting tools expand and grow!