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Sunday, February 25, 2024
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UW-Madison announces groundbreaking study for suicide prevention

The study, which is government-funded, aims to determine if a combination of targeted brain stimulation and meditation practices will decrease the number of suicides.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is set to launch a novel multi-phase study at the beginning of next year to determine if a combination of targeted brain stimulation and meditation practices can lower the number of deaths by suicide. 

The study will be led by UW-Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds and the Wisconsin Institute for Sleep and Consciousness.

The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, who is funding the $14 million project, reached out to the Center for Healthy Minds in hopes of using the study to address the increased rate of suicide in the military. There are 22 military suicides a day, including active duty personnel and veterans, said Dr. Richard Davidson, founder and director of the Center for Healthy Minds. 

“I have the strong conviction that humans are born with the capacity for and the propensity towards flourishing. But like other capacities, it requires nurturing to be expressed,” Davidson told The Daily Cardinal.

Participants will be assessed on well-being, suicidality and neurological measures before beginning a 4-week hybrid meditation program. 

The meditation practices in the program will be combined with non-invasive targeted brain stimulation, where sensors will be placed on participants’ heads during sleep. The sensors will send targeted frequencies to stimulate specific areas of the brain and assist the brain in consolidating and absorbing meditation skills learned in the program. 

The combination of meditation during wakefulness and neurostimulation during sleep is completely novel. 

“There's been a lot of development in using non-invasive brain stimulation to facilitate neuroplasticity, and we want to harness the advances that have been made in this area and pair them with strategies that we already know to be effective,”  Davidson told the Cardinal.

If they succeed, Davidson, who considers himself an “activist scientist,” said the team envisions a day where people could access the benefits of the brain stimulation using a simple home device that can be disseminated widely. 

“When human beings first evolved, none of us were brushing our teeth. Today, virtually every person on the planet brushes their teeth,” Davidson said. “We've learned because it's important for our physical hygiene. What we're talking about is something important for our mental hygiene.”

Davidson and the Center for Healthy Minds previously created the Healthy Minds Program, a free app which uses science to help users learn meditation habits. The Healthy Minds Program will be incorporated into the 4-week meditation program in the study.

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