DALLAS, Sept. 8, 2022 — Researchers have been interested in the role of the microbiome in the health of the gut and the body as a whole for a long time. According to a recent article in Science by a UT Southwestern researcher, there is more and more evidence that the microorganisms in a person’s gut can also affect their brain and emotional health.
Jane Foster, PhD, is a professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern and a leading expert on the microbiome. In this article, she talks about how scientists are trying to figure out how the microbiome affects the brain and how diseases like depression and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis may be linked to it (ALS). Dr Foster was the first person to find a link between microbes in the guts of mice and anxiety.
He said that studies on animals have shown that certain microbes and related metabolites make animals act and think more like they are anxious. If these findings were applied to clinical populations, it could lead to new treatments that help patients feel better and have better outcomes.
Dr Foster joined UT Southwestern and its Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care (CDRC) in May to lead the effort to connect the dots between a person’s 39 trillion gut microbes and their propensity for brain disease. She was a professor at Ontario’s McMaster University and co-molecular lead of The Canadian Biomarker Integration Network in Depression before (CAN-BIND).
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“There are many different kinds of people who are at risk for depression or who have been told they have depression. So, Dr Foster said, “we want to use biology to learn about the biomarkers that can help us figure out the different groups of people.”
She said that what made her want to join the centre was UT Southwestern’s approach, which is based on the idea that clinical care and research go hand in hand.
“That whole-person approach is necessary if we want to help people with mental illness in a better way,” Dr Foster said.
The CDRC researches both unipolar and bipolar depression to learn more about what causes it, find new ways to treat it and make the ones that are already available better.
Madhukar H. Trivedi, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the CDRC, said, “I am very happy that we were able to get Dr Foster to join our centre, given that our goal is to study the biomarkers of mental health in a variety of ways.”
Drs. Foster and Trivedi have worked together before to look for immune markers in blood samples from CAN-BIND to see how inflammation might affect depression and in stool samples from the Texas Resilience Against Depression study to see how inflammation might affect depression. If a patient with depression gives a sample that shows certain microbes that are linked to the success of certain antidepressants or therapies, this may lead to personalised medicine for this patient.
“At the moment, we have a lot of treatment options, but most of the time, decisions are made based on behaviour and self-report, and in some cases, imaging and EEGs,” Dr Foster said. “About 40% of people who take antidepressants find that they help them. Cognitive-behavioural therapy, deep brain stimulation, or even exercise and a healthy diet are other options. By expanding on the individual patient’s profile, can we now improve the number of people that respond to a particular treatment?”
Dr Trivedi is in charge of the Julie K. Hersh Chair for Depression Research and Clinical Care and the Betty Jo Hay Distinguished Chair in Mental Health.
About UT Southwestern Medical Center
One of the best academic medical centres in the country, UT Southwestern combines innovative biomedical research with excellent clinical care and education. There are 26 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 17 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 14 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators on the faculty. These people have won a total of six Nobel Prizes.
More than 2,900 full-time faculty members are responsible for some of the most important medical advances ever made. They are also committed to quickly turning scientific research into new treatments for people. More than 100,000 people are hospitalised and more than 360,000 people go to the emergency room every year. Nearly 4 million outpatient visits are also managed by UT Southwestern doctors.
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