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Letter from the editor | 216

Relief through electricity

This issue’s cover story reports the details of an experimental treatment for severe depression. We’ve selected this study as our main subject for two reasons, foremost of which is its promising nature. Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is being tested in several countries, including Brazil, and the results are encouraging. Besides having few side effects, the new treatment could serve as an alternative or a complement to the use of drugs, a fact that is particularly important when we recall that 30% of people with severe depression do not respond to their current treatments. The second reason to choose it as cover story lies with the disease itself – depression is the most widespread of the mental disorders. A survey by researchers from the Federal University of São Paulo found that28.27% of all Brazilians have symptoms of depression. Of this group, 15% show signs of the disorder in its most severe form, which generally requires the use of high doses of medications. And even with these, treatment success is limited.

Experts at the Center for Clinical and Epidemiological Research at the University Hospital of the University of São Paulo consider tDCS promising because it is simple to use. It involves attaching two electrodes – one positive and one negative – to the patient’s temples. A low-intensity electrical current is then applied for 20 to 30 continuous minutes to help restore normal functioning to the neurons.

When we talk about electrical stimulation, our thoughts immediately jump to EST, electric shock therapy, a treatment that has a terrible reputation, but that is still considered to be one of the most effective ways to relieve depression in those who fail to respond to any other treatment. In EST, a single high electrical discharge of up to one ampere is made to the brain an anesthetized patient, who could suffer side effects such as temporary memory loss. With tDCS, the current applied is 400 times less, at only 2 milliamperes, and the patient is awake. Treatment causes only a tingling sensation for a few seconds and redness at the site of electrode placement for about 20 minutes. Studies are continuing and the treatment offers relief to those who suffer from the most severe form of the disease, which can be as debilitating as any other serious illness. The report by Special Editor Carlos Fioravanti makes for worthwhile reading.


Although studies on global climate change have targeted all types of environments, rarely do the mangroves appear in the limelight. Now, this Brazilian biome, monitored for the last 16 years, is the subject of the report by Pesquisa FAPESP Online Executive Editor Maria Guimarães, who shows how the mangroves in Guaratiba, Rio de Janeiro, have responded to environmental changes. There, the forest has advanced 80 meters inland since 1998, one clear sign that the sea is rising, say researchers. The expectation is that the mangroves will continue to expand their geographical distribution in Brazil as temperatures rise.


Prospective new technologies and their development for use in the sanitation industry in São Paulo is the subject investigated by Technology Editor Marcos de Oliveira. He reports on some of the R&D projects underway at the Companhia de Saneamento Básico do Estado de São Paulo (Sabesp), which since 2009 has heavily invested in efforts to improve its service to 363 municipalities in the state of São Paulo. Interest on the part of the company – the second largest in number of customers in a single country – has led it to establish university partnerships and sign a cooperative agreement with FAPESP to fund projects in this area. One of its main objectives is to reduce the enormous waste of water in the network, mainly due to cracks in the pipes. Today, one-third of the water that comes out of the large reservoirs is lost, through a combination of leaks and fraud. The company is now investing in R&D to try to reduce these losses. It’s another one of this issue’s great stories.