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App Helps Patients with Depression, Psychiatrists Manage Mood, Activity Levels

COLUMBIA, Mo. ― Approximately 16 million American adults are affected by depression. However, many patients see a psychiatrist only once every two to three months. Recognizing that patients often forget how their moods vary between visits, a team from the University of Missouri, Missouri University of Science and Technology and the Tiger Institute for Health Innovation has developed a smartphone application that lets users log their moods and symptoms and share that data with their psychiatrists. “Some patients keep a mood diary during their treatment, which can be helpful in assessing their well-being,” said Ganesh Gopalakrishna, M.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at the MU School of Medicine and a psychiatrist at MU Health Care. “But I thought that there must be a better way to record moods and activity. That led to the development of the MoodTrek™ app, which allows patients to log their moods, sleep patterns and activity levels between appointments. People tend to forget what their moods were like just a few days ago, but through this app, I can now see that data and can use it to provide the best care possible.” Gopalakrishna worked with Sriram Chellappan, a computer science faculty member at Missouri S&T, to create the app. The two, along with Missouri S&T’s technology transfer and economic development staff, coordinated development of the app with the Tiger Institute. The free MoodTrek™ app gives patients a sense of how they’re doing on a daily basis. Behavioral health has been linked to factors such as a person’s sleep and exercise levels, and the app helps users recognize what affects their mood. Users of the app are able to record their moods on a scale of one to five by selecting [...]

Exploring the brain’s role in stress-induced anxiety​​​

July 23, 2015 By Jim Dryden BRUCHAS LABORATORY Neurons in the mouse brain appear green as they produce a substance that makes them sensitive to light. The red marks the presence of norepinephrine, which surges under stress. Calming a neural circuit in the brain can alleviate stress in mice, according to new research that could lay the foundation for understanding stress and anxiety in people. Using cutting-edge techniques, the researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis also showed they could shine a light into the brain to activate the stress response in mice that had not been exposed to stressful situations. The study is published online July 23 in the journal Neuron. “We now have a much better idea of the neural circuit involved in producing anxiety following stress,” said first author Jordan G. McCall, PhD, a former graduate student in the laboratory of principal investigator Michael R. Bruchas, PhD, associate professor of anesthesiology and neurobiology. “You can imagine that this same response also may be important to longer-term stress-related problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or anxiety disorder.” The work may lead to the development of new treatments for such disorders, as well as for depression and alcohol and drug abuse. Neuroscientists already knew that a small structure in the brain called the locus coeruleus (LC) plays a key role in stress and anxiety. Neurons in that region secrete the hormone norepinephrine, which surges when a person is under stress. But using techniques called optogenetics and chemogenetics, the researchers showed they could selectively control the firing of LC neurons, lower norepinephrine levels and prevent the anxiety that normally follows stressful events. In these techniques, researchers genetically engineer mice with brain cells [...]

Device delivers drugs to brain via remote control​​

Technology demonstrated for the first time in mice July 16, 2015 By Jim Dryden ALEX DAVID JEREZ ROMAN PHOTO Tiny, implantable devices are capable of delivering light or drugs to specific areas of the brain, potentially improving drug delivery to targeted regions of the brain and reducing side effects. Eventually, the devices may be used to treat pain, depression, epilepsy and other neurological disorders in people. A team of researchers has developed a wireless device the width of a human hair that can be implanted in the brain and activated by remote control to deliver drugs. The technology, demonstrated for the first time in mice, one day may be used to treat pain, depression, epilepsy and other neurological disorders in people by targeting therapies to specific brain circuits, according to the researchers at Washington University School of Medicine​ in St. Louis and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The research is a major step forward in pharmacology and builds on earlier work in optogenetics, a technology that makes individual brain cells sensitive to light and then activates those targeted populations of cells with flashes of light. Because it’s not yet practical to re-engineer human neurons, the researchers made the tiny wireless devices capable of delivering drugs directly into the brain, with the remote push of a button. “In the future, it should be possible to manufacture therapeutic drugs that could be activated with light,” said co-principal investigator Michael R. Bruchas, PhD, associate professor of anesthesiology and neurobiology at Washington University. “With one of these tiny devices implanted, we could theoretically deliver a drug to a specific brain region and activate that drug with light as needed. This approach potentially could deliver therapies that are much more [...]

Finding the body clock’s molecular reset button

Researchers from McGill and Concordia discover mechanism involved in adjusting rhythms of circadian clock PUBLISHED: 27 APR 2015 An international team of scientists has discovered what amounts to a molecular reset button for our internal body clock. Their findings reveal a potential target to treat a range of disorders, from sleep disturbances to other behavioral, cognitive, and metabolic abnormalities, commonly associated with jet lag, shift work and exposure to light at night, as well as with neuropsychiatric conditions such as depression and autism. In a study published online April 27 in Nature Neuroscience, the authors, led by researchers at McGill and Concordia universities in Montreal, report that the body’s clock is reset when a phosphate combines with a key protein in the brain. This process, known as phosphorylation, is triggered by light. In effect, light stimulates the synthesis of specific proteins called Period proteins that play a pivotal role in clock resetting, thereby synchronizing the clock’s rhythm with daily environmental cycles. Shedding light on circadian rhythms “This study is the first to reveal a mechanism that explains how light regulates protein synthesis in the brain, and how this affects the function of the circadian clock,” says senior author Nahum Sonenberg, a professor in McGill’s Department of Biochemistry. In order to study the brain clock’s mechanism, the researchers mutated the protein known as eIF4E in the brain of a lab mouse so that it could not be phosphorylated. Since all mammals have similar brain clocks, experiments with the mice give an idea of what would happen if the function of this protein were blocked in humans. Running against the clock The mice were housed in cages equipped with running wheels. By recording and analyzing the animals’ [...]

Mindfulness-based therapy could offer an alternative to antidepressants for preventing depression relapse

Researchers from Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry are part of a team led by the University of Oxford, who have carried out new research that suggests mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) could provide an alternative non-drug treatment for people who do not wish to continue long-term antidepressant treatment. The results are published in "The Lancet". The results come from the first ever large study to compare MBCT – structured training for the mind and body which aims to change the way people think and feel about their experiences – with maintenance antidepressant medication for reducing the risk of relapse in depression. The study aimed to establish whether MBCT is superior to maintenance antidepressant treatment in terms of preventing relapse of depression. Although the findings show that MBCT isn't any more effective than maintenance antidepressant treatment in preventing relapse of depression, the results, combined with those of previous trials, suggest that MCBT may offer similar protection against depressive relapse or recurrence for people who have experienced multiple episodes of depression, with no significant difference in cost. "Depression is a recurrent disorder. Without ongoing treatment, as many as four out of five people with depression relapse at some point," explained Willem Kuyken, lead author and Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Oxford in the UK. "Currently, maintenance antidepressant medication is the key treatment for preventing relapse, reducing the likelihood of relapse or recurrence by up to two-thirds when taken correctly," added study co-author Professor Richard Byng, from the Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, UK. "However, there are many people who, for a number of different reasons, are unable to keep on a course of medication for depression.  Moreover, many people [...]

NIH award funds research into tiny devices that shine light on brain disorders

Washington University in St. Louis, by Jim Dreyden ~ November 12, 2013 To better understand and one day provide improved treatments for depression, addiction and anxiety, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are using tiny, electronic devices to identify and map neural circuits in the brain. The innovative work has been recognized with a rare grant called EUREKA (Exceptional, Unconventional Research Enabling Knowledge Acceleration) that funds high-risk/high-reward projects. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) supports 12 to 18 such grants each year. With the award, Michael R. Bruchas, PhD, assistant professor of anesthesiology, and his colleagues will conduct studies with micro-LED devices that his group recently co-developed with a team at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. The work is part of the developing field of optogenetics, which uses advances in optics and genetics to control individual brain cells. For example, scientists can take a light-activated gene targeted at a particular type of neuron and insert the gene into a mouse. It then becomes possible to shine light into the animal’s brain either to get neurons to fire or to inhibit their activity. In a recent study, Bruchas and his colleagues used the tiny electronic devices, which are thinner than a human hair, to tap into the internal reward system of mice, prodding their neurons to release dopamine, a chemical associated with pleasure, when the mice poked their noses through a hole in a particular part of a maze. “Optogenetics allows us to zero in on specific populations of neurons and understand which ones are involved in complex behaviors,” Bruchas said. “What we learn from these studies will make it possible for us to target specific populations of brain cells that [...]

Study looks at safety, effectiveness of generics for treating depression

Washington University in St. Louis, by Jim Dreyden ~ November 4, 2013 Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are studying the quality, effectiveness and safety of generic drugs used to treat depression. The research is supported by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is the only study of its kind funded by the agency. The study will determine whether brand-name 300 mg bupropion hydrochloride (HCl) extended-release (ER) tablets — sold commercially as Wellbutrin XL — and the various generic versions of bupropion HCl ER tablets work the same in the body and deliver the same therapeutic benefits. The principal investigator is Evan D. Kharasch, MD, PhD, the Russell D. and Mary B. Shelden Professor of Anesthesiology and an expert in clinical pharmacology, drug metabolism, drug interactions, mechanisms of drug toxicity and pharmacogenetics, a clinical pursuit that focuses on understanding the ways that individuals can respond to the same drug differently. “Since generic versions of extended-release bupropion HCl were introduced, there have been some reports that they may not be as effective as the brand-name drug and may be associated with adverse events,” Kharasch said. “The first time a 300 mg generic version of this drug was tested, there were significant differences in drug concentrations in the blood compared with what was seen with the brand-name drug, Wellbutrin XL, and that generic formulation eventually was taken off the market. Now, we’re going to study several generics to evaluate their blood concentrations in patients, how effective they are, and whether they are associated with side effects or with relapse. This study will go beyond the tests that have been conducted previously.” Kharasch, an anesthesiologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and also vice chancellor [...]

Rockville biotech tests stem cells for depression

Monday, July 2, 2012 By: Gazette staff Neuralstem, the Rockville company that's developing a stem cell treatment for patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, has begun testing the safety of its treatment for major depressive disorder. The compound, NSI-189, stimulates new neuron growth in the brain's hippocampus region, which scientists think is involved in depression and other conditions, including Alzheimer's disease, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a company statement. The phase 1b study involves 24 depressed patients and is expected to run six months. "We believe it could help patients who suffer from depression via a new mechanism that does not seek to modulate brain chemistry, but rather stimulates new neuron growth in the hippocampus and increases hippocampal volume, thereby potentially addressing the problem at the source," Karl Johe, Neuralstem's chief scientific officer, said in the statement. The company has researched hippocampal stem cell lines since 2000 and in 2009 won U.S. patents for four chemical entities that generate new neurons. In studies, NSI-189 stimulated such growth in mice. In other Maryland bioscience industry news: Supernus Pharmaceuticals has received tentative marketing approval from the Food and Drug Administration for its once-daily, extended release version of an epilepsy treatment. The FDA said it has completed its review of Trokendi XR and no more clinical trials are required. Final approval hinges on resolving a marketing exclusivity issue that involves a specific pediatric population, according to the FDA's letter to Supernus. Trokendi XR is an extended-release version of topimarate, which is marketed as Topamax by Janssen Pharmaceuticals of Titusville, N.J., to treat seizures and migraine headaches. "We will continue to work closely with the FDA to further understand the outstanding issue and move forward towards final approval," [...]