By Jamie Komarnicki, Calgary Herald September 27, 2012

CALGARY — Calgary researchers are studying a new way of helping teenagers cope with depression by using magnetic fields to give a “booster shot” to the part of the brain used to make decisions.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a non-invasive brain stimulation technique used extensively to treat adults, will now be used on youth as part of a project at the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute for Child and Maternal Health.

The Calgary hospital is equipped with the only brain stimulation lab of its kind with the ability to perform the treatment on teenagers, said principal investigator Dr. Frank MacMaster, who is working with pediatric neurologist Dr. Adam Kirton on the pilot study.

The project, funded by community donations, is geared toward teenagers with depression who haven’t responded well to standard treatments, including medication and psychotherapy, MacMaster said.

The researchers will use transcranial magnetic stimulation to excite the frontal lobe — “the boss of the brain” — to help regulate their emotions, MacMaster said.

It will give a “booster to that part of the brain to try to help it do its job better so these kids can fight the symptoms.”

The goal of medication and cognitive behavioural therapy is to change the brain so the patients feel better, and TMS is no different, MacMaster said. It could provide a new treatment option for the approximately 50 per cent of young people with depression whose symptoms aren’t helped by the current therapies, he added.

The researchers are looking for 50 patients between 12 and 21 years old, who have treatment-resistant depression, to participate in the study.

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