Why neuromodulation research matters.

Depression is a treatable condition – but for some people, conventional treatments (i.e. medication, talk therapy) are ineffective and involve significant trial and error. 

Additionally, for age cohorts such as youth and the elderly, the number of anti-depressants available on the market is limited, and the medications that are prescribed can often come with many undesirable side effects; deterring many individuals from sticking with treatment. 

Imagine, then, a non-invasive, non-drug therapy for symptoms of depression that takes relatively little time, and has shown promising results in those for whom little else has worked. 

That’s what cutting-edge neuromodulation research and treatment can offer to those with treatment-resistant depression and related conditions. 

Neuromodulation is the process of modifying the brain’s circuitry or activity by directly intervening inside the brain, and using electrical, ultrasound or magnetic energy that is applied on the scalp.

Essentially, once malfunctioning circuits in the brain are found, they can be effectively adjusted. 

While our previous understanding of mental illness as a  ‘chemical imbalance’ has helped to inform the development of drug therapies over the past few decades, neuromodulation research is now helping us to understand mental illness as a ‘brain circuitry’ disorder as well. 

Through this understanding, researchers are opening the doors to a whole new realm of minimally invasive, alternative treatment possibilities. 

“Across the mental health landscape, clinicians, researchers and patients are all becoming increasingly aware that there is an urgent need for new, alternative therapies for mental health disorders. Neuromodulation offers us a whole new way of looking at mental health treatment, where we can identify malfunctioning circuits in the brain, and effectively treat them in a non-drug, non-invasive way. Research in this area is leading to a better, more personalized standard of care for patients with depression and related mental health disorders, for whom traditional treatments haven’t worked.”
- Dr. Sara Tremblay

What we do. 

Neuromodulation research at The Royal’s Institute of Mental Health Research focuses on the study and treatment of major psychiatric disorders using repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). 

This therapy is approved by Health Canada for the treatment of major depression, and is currently under study as a potential treatment for other psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. For individuals that do not respond to at least one anti-depressant medication, rTMS is now considered to be a first-line recommendation.  

Unlike medications that act on particular chemicals in the brain to alleviate symptoms of depression, rTMS directly stimulates the specific brain circuit that is known to be dysfunctional. This is done by producing a brief magnetic field that is delivered via a coil placed against the scalp. 

Upcoming rTMS studies at the IMHR will harness the state-of-the-art neuroimaging technologies at The Royal’s Brain Imaging Centre to better understand how this therapy modifies brain circuitry, in order to more effectively personalize treatment. 

Dr. Sara Tremblay, a scientist at the IMHR and an expert in neuromodulation is also hard at work developing a rTMS clinical-research platform in collaboration with clinicians at The Royal, which will help make rTMS treatment more accessible to individuals with major depression, through research. This platform will be the first of its kind in the Ottawa region.   

The primary goal of ongoing research in this area is to offer shorter, more reliable, and more effective neuromodulation treatment protocols for individuals with mental health disorders. 

Research focus:

  • Investigating the neural basis of rTMS therapy through PET-MRI and high-density EEG;
  • Improving neuromodulation paradigms while simultaneously exploring neurobiological markers for treatment efficacy;
  • Development of biomarkers to identify potential responders to neuromodulation treatments, such as rTMS and electroconvulsive therapy
Sara Tremblay, PhD

Study recruitment via