Bertha and Wall-E help kids with Tourette’s syndrome turn down their tics


Cynthia Kahl

Principal Investigator

Dr. Frank MacMaster


University of Calgary

Grant Type

Graduate grant in 2018


Tourette Syndrome (TS)

Dr. Cynthia Kahl

PhD student at the University of Calgary

The impact

Kids with Tourette’s syndrome (TS) are just like everybody else. They run and jump in the playground, they enjoy making volcanoes bubble in science class, and they love poking fun at their brothers and sisters.

However, sometimes kids with TS act a little bit different because they make movements and noises called tics. These tics are like little involuntary hiccups, that the kids aren’t purposefully doing, or in full control of. For example, if a child has a tic that causes their arm to move a lot, it’s much more difficult for this child to write an essay or a math test in school, because their writing keeps getting all scribbly! And to make matters worse for these kids, since other kids often don’t understand tics they can often be socially isolated. This project seeks to help kids with TS better control their tics, so that they might feel more included at school, during sports, and with their family.

The science

The MacMaster Research Lab uses a fun magnetic therapy called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to change how brains function in kids with TS. Our TMS device is in a robot named Bertha, and we use a cool camera called Wall-E to track kids as they move and see inside their brains! TMS uses magnets to safely stimulate parts of the brain (specifically the Supplementary Motor Area), to turn down tics in kids with TS.

What's next?

By turning down the expression of tics in kids with TS, we can help these kids succeed in their academic, athletic and family communities. The kid with an arm tic who has trouble writing – because it keeps getting scribbly – may be better able to control this tic after TMS treatment, to better write tests and assignments at school, improving academic performance. Success in school often leads to employment success, giving these kids their best chance long-term to lead healthy, positive lives in their communities.

Approximately 0.3-0.6% of children have TS, which is between 305,757 to 611,514 children in Alberta alone. Current treatments of antipsychotic medication and behavioural therapy are not always effective or available and may have negative side-effects such as weight gain or fatigue (medication). New treatments are needed for kids with TS to help them control their tics and to feel more in control of their bodies, so that they can lead their best lives.

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