For many individuals with treatment-resistant depression, ketamine has proven to be a “wonder drug” of sorts.
The rate of those who respond to this treatment is around 50-60%, and the response time is also staggeringly fast (many patients who have had ketamine infusions during depressive or suicidal episodes feel positive impacts either right away, or within 24 hours). This positive treatment response is particularly significant, considering that for many of these patients, few other options have worked.
Research has proven that this long-time anesthetic agent also works to treat depression — but we still don’t exactly know how.
That’s what Michael Iro is trying to figure out.
A M.Sc. in Neuroscience candidate at the University of Ottawa, Michael is pursuing his graduate research under the supervision of Dr. Pierre Blier of the IMHR’s Mood Disorders Research Unit (Dr. Blier has been studying ketamine’s effect on depression since 2011, and was the first clinician in Canada to give small doses of ketamine to patients with treatment-resistant depression).
Michael’s research uses electrophysiology in rats to investigate the effects of ketamine on the particular brain regions that are known to be involved in the anti-depressant response.
“Typically, when someone takes an anti-depressant medication, it targets three main chemicals in the brain, and increases their activity,” he said.
“We want to see if ketamine has that same effect on these chemicals.”
By understanding what effect ketamine is actually having on brain activity, Michael said that it will become possible to better target treatment, and potentially replicate the effectiveness of ketamine through alternative treatments.
His hope is that his findings will help contribute to the development and understanding of new therapies for major depressive disorder.
Michael said that it is his fascination with the mind-body connection – and how that relationship can differ greatly in individuals with depression – that keeps him motivated and passionate about the work he is doing.
“We all experience different moods and periods where we feel depressed, but sometimes I try to think about myself on a bad day, and what it might feel like if I continued to experience that same mood for months and months,” said Michael.
“There are so many people who are suffering — but if we can continue to explore and understand the interplay between our mind and our brains, then we will have the opportunity to reduce that suffering.”
Michael plans to use the funds received from the IMHR Graduate Student Research award to travel to Chicago, Illinois in May 2019 to attend the Society of Biological Psychiatry’s annual scientific conference.
His longer-term goal is to pursue a PhD in Neuroscience and explore how his research findings can be applied to help improve treatment for patients.
The IMHR Graduate Student Research Award is generously funded by The Jennie James Depression Research Fund, The Allison Lees Depression Research Fund and The Louise Helen Waddington Research Fund, through The Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health.