hit counter

At-Home tDCS Trial (HomeDC) Prematurely Terminated Due to Skin Lesions & Safety Concerns (2023 Study)

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) is emerging as a promising home-based treatment for Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), offering a non-invasive, cost-effective, and scalable option for patients.

This treatment modulates cortical excitability, potentially altering neuronal activity in the brain areas associated with depression.

However, a recent randomized controlled trial (RCT), the HomeDC trial, aimed at investigating the safety and efficacy of at-home tDCS for MDD, was prematurely terminated due to safety concerns, highlighting critical issues in the deployment of tDCS as a home-based therapy.


  1. tDCS is a non-invasive brain stimulation technique that has been explored for its potential in treating Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) from the comfort of one’s home.
  2. The HomeDC trial, a study focused on at-home tDCS for MDD, was halted early due to the occurrence of adverse events, specifically skin lesions, in participants.
  3. Despite safety concerns, the trial and other studies have shown significant reduction in depression scales over time, although active tDCS was not superior to sham (placebo) tDCS.
  4. The systematic review and experiences from the HomeDC trial underscore the importance of addressing safety, feasibility, adherence, and monitoring in future home-based tDCS research and applications.

Source: European Archives of Psychiatry & Clinical Neuroscience (2023)

The Potential of At-Home tDCS for Psychiatric Conditions

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) is a form of non-invasive brain stimulation that has shown promise in the treatment of various psychiatric conditions, including major depressive disorder (MDD), anxiety, and bipolar disorder.

The application of tDCS involves delivering a low-intensity direct current through electrodes placed on the scalp, which can modulate neuronal activity.

The potential of at-home tDCS lies in its accessibility, cost-effectiveness, and safety, offering a complementary or alternative approach to traditional treatments like medication and psychotherapy.

How tDCS Works

tDCS works by applying a constant, low current to the brain through electrodes, influencing neuronal excitability.

The direction of this effect depends on the polarity of the stimulation:

  • Anodal tDCS: Typically increases cortical excitability by depolarizing the resting membrane potential of neurons, potentially enhancing brain activity in targeted regions.
  • Cathodal tDCS: Tends to decrease cortical excitability by hyperpolarizing the resting membrane potential, which can reduce brain activity in specific areas.

This modulation of neuronal activity can lead to changes in brain function, which may result in improved symptoms in various psychiatric conditions.

Potential Benefits of At-Home tDCS

  • Accessibility & Convenience: At-home tDCS devices enable patients to receive treatment in the comfort of their own home, overcoming barriers such as travel to clinics or difficulty accessing mental health services.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: Compared to traditional treatments, at-home tDCS devices are relatively inexpensive and do not require continuous professional supervision, reducing healthcare costs.
  • Safety & Tolerability: tDCS is generally considered safe, with mild side effects (e.g., skin irritation, mild discomfort at the electrode site) that are typically transient and manageable.
  • Empowerment & Autonomy: At-home tDCS may empower patients by giving them an active role in their treatment, potentially improving adherence and engagement.
  • Complementarity to Existing Treatments: tDCS can be used alongside medication and psychotherapy, offering a multimodal approach to treatment that may enhance overall efficacy.

Lessons Learned: At-Home tDCS for Depression (HomeDC Trial) (2023)

Kumpf et al. evaluated data from the terminated HomeDC trial, a double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study investigating the efficacy, safety, and feasibility of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) at home for the treatment of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) – below are the findings.

1. Antidepressant Effects

  • Overall Improvement: Both active and sham tDCS groups showed a reduction in depression scales over time, indicating an overall improvement in depressive symptoms. This improvement was measured using the Montgomery and Asberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS) and the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI).
  • Lack of Superiority: The active tDCS group did not demonstrate superior efficacy in reducing depressive symptoms compared to the sham tDCS group. This suggests that the antidepressant effects observed might not be specifically attributable to the active tDCS treatment.

2. Feasibility

  • Good Compliance: The feasibility of conducting tDCS at home was deemed good, based on the number of completed stimulation sessions and the low dropout rates. Patients were able to administer tDCS at home with a satisfactory level of adherence to the treatment regimen.
  • Technical Aspects: The trial utilized CE-certified neuroConn DC-stimulators and a specifically designed electrode cap for correct positioning, which contributed to the overall feasibility of the home-based treatment.

3. Adverse Events & Safety Concerns

  • Adverse Events (AEs): The trial was prematurely terminated due to the accumulation of adverse events, specifically skin lesions, observed exclusively in the active tDCS group. This raised concerns regarding the safety of administering tDCS at home without direct supervision.
  • Insufficient Safety Monitoring: The occurrence of AEs highlighted a limitation in the safety monitoring mechanisms in place. The monitoring was not sufficient to detect or prevent AEs within an appropriate timeframe, emphasizing the need for improved safety protocols in future trials.

HomeDC Trial: tDCS for Major Depression (2023 Study)

The HomeDC trial aimed to evaluate the feasibility, safety, and efficacy of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) administered at home by patients with major depressive disorder (MDD).

It sought to explore whether tDCS could offer a scalable, cost-effective, and accessible treatment option, enhancing clinical practice and patient outcomes in MDD treatment outside of traditional clinical settings.


  • Trial Design: A double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study.
  • Participants: Patients with a DSM-5 diagnosis of MDD were included. A total of 11 patients participated due to early trial termination.
  • Intervention: Participants were randomized to receive either active or sham tDCS, administering treatments at home for 6 weeks with 5 sessions/week, each lasting 30 minutes at 2 mA, with the anode over F3 and the cathode over F4.
  • Safety & Feasibility Monitoring: Safety was assessed through the occurrence of adverse events (AEs), specifically skin lesions. Feasibility was evaluated based on the completion rates of tDCS sessions.
  • Efficacy Measurement: The primary efficacy outcome was the reduction in depression scale scores over time, comparing active tDCS against sham tDCS.


  • Safety Concerns: The trial was prematurely terminated due to the occurrence of adverse events, specifically skin lesions, observed in the active tDCS group. Four out of five patients in the active group experienced skin lesions.
  • Feasibility: Despite the termination, feasibility was deemed good, with participants completing an average of 26.5 sessions out of the targeted 30.
  • Efficacy: There was a significant reduction in depression scales over time for both active and sham tDCS groups. However, active tDCS was not found to be superior to sham tDCS in reducing depressive symptoms.
  • Adherence & Safety Monitoring Limitations: The study highlighted challenges in safety monitoring and adherence, emphasizing the need for real-time monitoring and better patient instruction and engagement.


  • Early Termination & Small Sample Size: The study’s premature termination due to safety concerns limited the sample size to 11 patients, significantly impacting the statistical power and the generalizability of the findings.
  • Inadequate Safety Monitoring: The lack of real-time safety monitoring and insufficient patient education on self-administration and reporting of potential AEs limited the ability to prevent or immediately address safety issues.
  • Lack of Superiority Over Sham: The study did not demonstrate the superiority of active tDCS over sham treatment, raising questions about the efficacy of at-home tDCS in treating MDD.
  • Technical & Operational Challenges: The study encountered technical and operational challenges in home-based tDCS administration, including ensuring consistent electrode placement and maintaining engagement and adherence to the treatment protocol outside of a supervised clinical setting.

Why Did the HomeDC Trial of tDCS End Prematurely?

The HomeDC trial was prematurely concluded due to safety concerns after the occurrence of adverse events (AEs), notably skin lesions, among participants in the active transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) group.

This unexpected outcome highlighted significant challenges in the self-administration of tDCS by patients at home, including the need for better safety protocols, real-time monitoring, and patient education.

The trial’s early termination emphasizes the importance of these aspects in conducting safe and effective home-based tDCS treatments.

Preventative Measures for Future Trials

To prevent similar incidents in future trials and ensure the safety of participants, several measures can be implemented.

  1. Enhanced Training & Education: Participants should receive comprehensive training on device usage, including proper electrode placement and identifying signs of adverse effects. Detailed instructional materials and virtual training sessions can improve understanding and adherence to safety protocols.
  2. Real-time Monitoring: Incorporating real-time monitoring technologies can help detect potential issues early. Systems that alert researchers or clinicians to high impedance levels, incorrect electrode placement, or skin irritation signs can prevent adverse events.
  3. Improved Device Design: Developing tDCS devices with enhanced safety features, such as automatic shutoff when abnormal skin resistance is detected or more comfortable and adjustable electrodes, could reduce the risk of skin lesions and other AEs.
  4. Regular Check-ins: Scheduling frequent virtual check-ins between participants and the research team can help monitor treatment progress, adherence, and any emerging issues, allowing for timely interventions.
  5. Use of Pilot Studies: Conducting pilot studies before full-scale RCTs can help identify and address potential safety issues, optimize protocols, and refine training materials and procedures.
  6. Clear Reporting & Communication Channels: Establishing straightforward, accessible communication channels for participants to report issues or seek guidance is crucial. This ensures that participants can quickly get help if they experience discomfort or adverse effects.

Are Adverse Events Inevitable with tDCS?

While tDCS is generally considered safe and well-tolerated, adverse events, though rare, can occur, especially outside controlled clinical environments.

The risk of AEs, such as skin irritation or lesions, underscores the need for rigorous safety protocols and continuous monitoring.

However, with proper precautions, training, and device improvements, the incidence of such events can be minimized, making at-home tDCS a viable and safe treatment option for psychiatric conditions.

Future research should continue to focus on enhancing the safety and usability of tDCS, ensuring that it can be delivered effectively and without harm in non-clinical settings.

Conclusion: Prematurely Terminated Trial of At-Home tDCS for Depression

The HomeDC trial, a pioneering study investigating the feasibility, safety, and efficacy of at-home transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) for the treatment of major depressive disorder (MDD), provides crucial insights despite its early termination.

The trial’s findings underscore the significant potential of tDCS as a non-invasive, cost-effective treatment modality that could revolutionize the management of psychiatric conditions from the comfort of patients’ homes.

However, the study also highlights critical challenges, particularly in safety monitoring and the need for improved patient education and real-time oversight to prevent adverse events.

Although the efficacy of active tDCS was not demonstrated to be superior to sham treatment in reducing depressive symptoms, the observed reduction in depression scales across both groups suggests a placebo effect or a need for further research to optimize treatment parameters.

The limitations of the HomeDC trial, including its small sample size and the technical and operational challenges of administering tDCS outside a clinical setting, offer valuable lessons for future research.

Moving forward, addressing these challenges and harnessing the full potential of at-home tDCS will require rigorous, well-designed studies with enhanced safety protocols and adherence monitoring to fully realize its promise as a therapeutic tool for psychiatric conditions.


Related Posts:

MHD News (100% Free)

* indicates required

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.