Stanford researchers lead AI breakthrough in treatment for depression

Brain scans combined with artificial intelligence (AI) have led to an important breakthrough in categorizing depression into six unique types.

As part of a study led by researchers at Stanford Medicine, California, published this month in the Nature Medicine journal, subtypes or “biotypes” of depression have been identified. The findings can pinpoint treatments that are more or less likely to be effective for an individual based on the type of condition they have.

The team of scientists which included members from the University of Sydney used data from 801 people with depression and anxiety. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used, firstly to scan participants’ brains while they were at rest and then while performing different tasks to get an understanding of how they function and compare cognitively and emotionally.

The researchers also selected 250 of those taking part in the study and randomly assigned them one of three commonly used antidepressants or behavioral oral therapy.

It was found that those with one subtype, typically characterized by overactivity in cognitive areas of the brain, reacted best to the venlafaxine antidepressant (also known as Effexor) compared to participants with the other biotypes.

A different section of the participant group whose brains at rest showed higher levels of activity in areas linked to depression experienced better outcomes with behavioral therapy, while a third type with low levels of activity in the brain region that controls attention was shown to be the least likely to see a benefit from talk therapy.

Ambition for ‘right first time’ outcomes

Professor Leanne Williams, from Stanford, explained, “The goal of our work is figuring out how we can get it right the first time. It’s very frustrating to be in the field of depression and not have a better alternative to this one-size-fits-all approach.”

She continued, “To our knowledge, this is the first time we’ve been able to demonstrate that depression can be explained by different disruptions to the functioning of the brain. In essence, it’s a demonstration of a personalized medicine approach for mental health based on objective measures of brain function.”

There is a belief and desire to continue the study, which has been expanded to include more participants, to conduct further test treatments for all six biotypes, including those not usually used for depression.

Image credit: Pixabay/Pexels

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Graeme Hanna