THE pioneer of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation of the brain has become the first recipient of a new international award.
Professor Tony Barker, a Fellow of the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine, has been awarded the International Brain Stimulation Award by publisher Elsevier.
The award acknowledges outstanding contributions to the field of brain stimulation. These contributions may be in basic, translational, or clinical aspects of neuromodulation, and must have had a profound influence in shaping this field of neuroscience and medicine.
Professor Barker, who recently retired after 38 years at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals’ Department of Medical Physics and Clinical Engineering, led the small team which developed the Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) technique in the early 1980s.
He first started his research on using time-varying magnetic fields to induce current flow in tissue in order to depolarize neurons. Prior to this effort, direct electrical stimulation, with electrodes placed on the scalp (or other body part), was the principle method used to induce neuronal depolarization. This method, however, had several flaws and the high intensity of electrical stimulation often painful. Magnetic fields, in contract, pass through the scalp and skull unimpeded and gives much more precise results.
In 1985, Professor Barker, together with his colleagues Dr Reza Jalinous and Professor Ian Freeston, reported the first demonstration of TMS. They produced twitching in a specific area of the hand in human volunteers by applying TMS to the motor cortex in the opposite hemisphere that controls movement of that muscle. This demonstrated that TMS was capable of stimulating a precise area of the brain and without the pain of electrical stimulation. Moreover, they did this with awake-alert human volunteers.
Today, TMS has become a vital tool in neuroscience, since, depending on stimulation parameters, specific brain areas can either be excited or inhibited. The TMS technique has evolved into a critical tool in basic neuroscience investigation, in the study of brain abnormalities in disease states, and in the treatment of a host of neurological and psychiatric conditions.
Mark George MD, Editor-in-Chief of Elsevier publication Brain Stimulation, said: ‘Every now and then in science someone makes a discovery or invents a tool, or both, that launches a revolution. Tony Barker is that person in the field of non-invasive brain stimulation.
‘He built the first TMS devices that were able to stimulate the brain in an awake adult focally and non-invasively. This discovery has rippled forward creating an entire field of researchers using TMS to understand how the brain works and to use TMS to change the brain and treat diseases like depression. There could be no better choice to receive this first most prestigious award.’
Dr Harold Sackeim, Professor, Departments of Psychiatry and Radiology at Columbia University and Founding Editor of Brain Stimulation added: ‘Tony Barker's invention of the first reliable method for TMS propelled the field forward, providing the tools used in previously unimagined fields of inquiry and therapeutics. His contribution resulted in vastly increased knowledge about the workings of the brain and relief from suffering in countless individuals.’
Professor Barker will receive his award at the 2nd International Brain Stimulation Conference in March, which is being held in Barcelona. He will also give a plenary lecture at the conference entitled Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation - past, present and future.
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