What if Picking a Treatment for your Child's Depression was less like a Magic 8 Ball?


Keon Ma

Principal Investigator

Dr. Frank MacMaster


University of Calgary

Grant Type




About the researcher

Keon Ma

Undergraduate Student at the University of Calgary

The impact

Depression changes your life, literally. It doesn’t matter if you are a straight-A student, the captain of the basketball team, the funniest kid in class, or the shy kid who sits in the corner, sometimes life may just feel like it isn’t worth living anymore. While drug and psychotherapy treatments are often effective for depression, they don’t work for about 30-60% of the people with depression. Understanding what is different about these people’s brains can help researchers develop new treatment options for pediatric depression, such as TMS. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a form of brain therapy that sends magnetic waves into the brain to modify how neurons in the treatment area are working. The idea is that these neurons can get “reprogrammed” back to being healthy.

The study

This study investigated the differences in brain images between responders and non-responders to TMS treatment in adolescent treatment-resistant depression. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used to take very high quality pictures of each kiddo’s brain, and measure the size of different brain structures. Keon and Dr. MacMaster found that people who responded to the TMS treatment tended to have a thinner outer layer of the brain (the cortex) compared to people who didn’t respond to the TMS treatment.

What's next?

Success! This study helped show that TMS can be a safe and effective treatment for kids with depression. In order for a doctor to be able to prescribe TMS for your children, the treatment has to be FDA approved. Through Branch Out’s support for Dr. MacMaster, he has gone on to work with a company to run clinical trials to get TMS FDA approved. This means that TMS treatments could start to become more widespread, and really are the first new type of treatment for depression in over 10 years! Furthermore, this study could help doctors decide if, based on a brain scan, a person is likely to benefit from TMS and allocate treatment resources effectively.

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