Justyna Stukin, who starts the fourth year of her behavioral neuroscience major in the fall, first learned about transcranial magnetic stimulation in class and became fascinated by the little-known procedure. Currently used to treat depression, TMS uses electromagnets to stimulate different parts of the brain. Researchers are hoping it can also slow the progress of Alzheimer’s disease, a type of dementia marked by memory loss. Stukin jumped at the chance to learn more at a co-op researching alternative uses for TMS at the Berenson-Allen Center for Noninvasive Brain Stimulation at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
Can you explain what the transcranial magnetic stimulation entails?
The main piece of equipment is an electromagnetic coil encased in plastic. It looks like a figure eight and emits a painless magnetic pulse. A technician applies the coil to specific parts of the brain depending on what they are treating. For example, depression impacts the prefrontal cortex, so the coil is placed there for that treatment.
Did you get a chance to try the treatment or experience what it feels like?
No, but I’m actually really curious how it feels. There’s definitely like a physical sensation to it. It’s hard to describe, but from what I’ve heard it’s maybe like a tapping on your head. I also wonder how it feels just having the stimulation—if you can notice in your brain that it’s happening.
Did you ever operate the TMS device on someone else?
I was focused on research, so I never treated any of the patients, but I did operate the device. There was a lot of intensive training involved before I was able to do that.
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Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University.