Did you know that up to two-thirds of people who suffer from depression don’t find relief from the first antidepressant they try? And even after four courses of antidepressants, one-third of people with depressive symptoms still don’t get better? Neuroimaging and AI may be able to change that, according to a pair of recent studies in the American Journal of Psychiatry and Nature Human Behavior.
The new research from scientists at UT Southwestern shows that brain imaging can identify activity patterns in the brain that indicate if a person is likely to respond to a certain medication. The two studies are part of a national trial called EMBARC that is working to establish better ways to treat depression based on objective, biological evidence. They are hoping it will lead to less trial and error and more targeted, effective treatment.
“We need to end the guessing game and find objective measures for prescribing interventions that will work,” said Dr. Madhukar Trivedi, who oversees EMBARC and is founding Director of UT Southwestern’s Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care.
The scientists are looking forward to a day when brain imaging, blood testing, and genetic testing will be standard practice in selecting a treatment plan for major depressive disorder.
What the New Research Shows
In the two new studies, which each involved over 300 participants, imaging tests measured brain activity at rest and during emotional processing. While in the brain scanners, study participants viewed photographs of angry or happy faces that were labeled with words that they had to read aloud. What made this tricky is that the words didn’t always match the emotion shown in the image. For example, a happy face might have had “Fear” written on it.
The researchers used AI to observe activity throughout the entire brain rather than just the emotional centers of the brain. The results found that people who had abnormal activity in the prefrontal cortex (an area involved in judgment, planning, and focus) were less likely to respond to treatment with SSRIs, a common type of antidepressant.
These studies further validate the use of neuroimaging in finding the best solutions for depression.
Brain Imaging Already Being Used in Depression Treatment
People with treatment-resistant depression who aren’t responding to antidepressants don’t need to wait for this type of technology to help them find the most effective solutions. Amen Clinics, with 8 locations nationwide, has been using brain SPECT imaging for 30 years, as well as lab testing, genetic testing, and a deep dive into the other areas of your life that might contribute to depressive symptoms.
The brain imaging work at Amen Clinics has identified 7 different types of depression and anxiety based on brain patterns. This helps explain why taking a “one-size-fits-all” approach to depression treatment will never work.
“Think of your brain patterns as a fingerprint,” said Dr. Jay Faber of Amen Clinics on CBS News, when asked about the new brain imaging and depression studies. “Everybody has their unique signature.”
When developing a patient’s treatment plan, the Amen Clinics Method takes those specific brain patterns into consideration, along with all the other factors that influence depression. And according to Dr. Faber, when patients who weren’t having a good response to antidepressants have a SPECT scan and are treated based on their brain patterns and other diagnostic information, “up to 78 to 80% are better.”
What Amen Clinics and these new studies out of UT Southwestern show are that neuroimaging is the future of psychiatry. While most psychiatric clinics are still years away from incorporating this technology into their clinical practice, at Amen Clinics, the future is now.
If you’re suffering from depression and aren’t getting relief, take advantage of the next-generation diagnostic testing available at Amen Clinics. We use brain SPECT imaging, as well as blood testing, genetic testing, and a comprehensive 4-circle approach that looks at all the biological, psychological, social, and spiritual factors that can contribute to depression symptoms. Based on all of this valuable information, we can create a targeted, personalized treatment plan that includes the least toxic, most effective solutions for your needs.