Ioana Mihalache

Research student profile

Research degree: PhD programme
Start date: 2023

Research summary

Project title: Reducing fatigue symptoms using neurostimulation at home – improving wellbeing through on-demand treatments

I started this project in September 2023 together with Dr Philipp Ruhnau and Dr Beth Richardson (School of Psychology and Humanities), in collaboration with PlatoScience (Copenhagen). This company has sponsored 20 transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) portable devices, allowing home-usage to observe their potential application as a chronic fatigue treatment.

Fatigue is an understudied condition that has seen raising research interest during the past years, particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to an increasing number of individuals reporting long-COVID symptoms (e.g., fatigue and ''brain fog'').

While fatigue is extensively studied in conditions like Multiple Sclerosis (MS), research is scarce for individuals without other health issues. tDCS is a safe, non-invasive brain stimulation technique that allows modulation of cortical neuronal activity via small, continuous, direct current between two (or more) electrodes (anode -positive- and cathode -negative-). The ease of use and low costs of manufacturing have allowed the creation of portable tDCS devices, that are now being used by clinicians to treat a variety of conditions, among which depression and anxiety.

The goal of this project is to observe whether portable tDCS devices can be useful in reducing the debilitating effects of fatigue, therefore improving quality of life. This will be a long-term project, where participants will be asked to use the device on a daily basis (once per day), for a period of 8 weeks. They will be able to do so in the comfort of their home, whenever time allows (which will give this project a more naturalistic approach, compared to traditional lab-based studies).

The experiment will be performed under a randomised, controlled, double-blind trial, where neither participants nor experimenters will know group allocation (sham -no stimulation/''placebo''- and active stimulation) until the end of the stimulation period.

Electroencephalography (EEG) will also be used to observe potential electrophysiological markers (e.g., event-related potentials -ERPs) of fatigue pre- and post-stimulation.

These will further be compared to electrophysiological data collected in a lab-setting, employing healthy individuals performing fatiguing tasks, to analyse if there are any differences between chronically fatigued individuals and those who have been induced fatigue via high cognitive load tasks.

The project aims to enhance understanding of fatigue mechanisms by using tDCS in a home-based setting, allowing more individuals to participate in research, and adapting to a more naturalistic way of conducting experiments.

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Research Supervisor: Philipp Ruhnau
Student: Ioana Andrada Mihalache

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