New Pathways To Treat Depression - Future Einsteins At IMRIC Changing Your World

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Dr. David Lichstein's research could lead to effective treatments for devastating mental illnesses

Dr. David Lichtstein

Depression is the world’s leading cause of disability. According to the World Health Organization, it affects an estimated 350 million people a year, a number that’s expected to grow. In Canada, one in five adults will suffer a mental disorder, at an estimated cost of $14.4 billion to our economy — and that’s not taking into account the cost of pain and suffering.

And yet, there’s been little in the way of new research or approaches to how we treat depression, says IMRIC researcher Dr. David Lichtstein, current dean of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Faculty of Medicine. Of the 50 or 60 antidepressant drugs on the market, he explains, “most work from the hypothesis that the brain lacks something, like serotonin, that we must supply.” And while many people benefit from current drug therapies, many others don’t respond well, experience debilitating side effects, or find that their drugs become less effective over time.

Lichtstein’s lab is working from a new hypothesis, one that stems from his background in physiology and his interest in cell membranes and the proteins that help them function — in particular the protein sodium-potassium-ATPase.

“Scientists have long known that, that the activity of this protein is reduced in people with bipolar disorder,” explains Lichtstein. “We’ve hypothesized that this reduction had to do with an increase of a newly discovered hormone called ‘endogenous cardiac steroids’ in the body, and over the last seven or eight years we shown that this is indeed the case.”

The implications for these findings are tremendous, says Lichtstein, who was the chair of IMRIC between 2008 and 2012. “We’re showing that there is another approach to treating depression. If we can reduce levels of endogenous cardiac steroids in the brain, if we can succeed in modifying the activity and interactions of these hormones with the sodium-potassium-ATPase, then that puts us on the path discovering and developing potentially more effective treatments for depressive disorders.”

Lichtstein hopes to be able to convince pharmacological companies to take on the challenges of developing new drugs to treat depressive disorders. It’s a monumental task, but one desperately needed by millions of people around the world.”

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