Principal investigator Dr. Jonathan Savitz is working on a LIBR study in the hopes of developing physiological treatment for depression. courtesy Laureate Institute for Brain Research

LIBR at work on depression

An ongoing LIBR study focuses on the connection between the immune system and mental state.

Nour el-Sabbah, a research intern and recent TU graduate, works on multiple studies at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research. Her job is to help conduct studies run by Principal Investigator Jonathan Savitz that focus on the role of the immune system and how it relates to depression symptoms.

Dr. Savitz is a principal investigator at LIBR and also a faculty member of Community Medicine at the University of Tulsa. According to the LIBR website, he graduated with a Ph.D. in Human Genetics from the University of Cape Town in 2006 and later completed “post-doctoral training in neuroimaging” at the National Institute of Mental Health.

el-Sabbah spoke of the research that Savitz is conducting, which studies and monitors patients’ immune system and CRP, the C-reactive protein levels to see how depression affects the body. According to el-Sabbah, CRP in blood indicates inflammation somewhere in a person’s body and the study looks at patients at a more “molecular level” by drawing multiple samples of blood to scan CRP levels.

The study also looks to see if different forms of depression result in different abnormalities of the immune system and what the “underlying mechanism” is that creates these irregularities.

el-Sabbah says that one way they do this is by using lipopolysaccharide, LPS, to “trigger an immune response,” which then causes mild symptoms to trick the immune system into fighting what it thinks is a foreign substance. Symptoms only last a few hours until they fully disappear, and the types of symptoms range from person to person.

University of Tulsa students are invited to participate in the study and be compensated for their time. Participation entails blood samples, experiencing mild symptoms, MRIs and answering questions on one’s physical and mental states before and after the treatment. Patients do not have to be medically diagnosed with any type of mental disorder to sign up for the study.

According to LIBR, the study is open to people who are:
• 18 years and older.
• Can understand enough English to complete the interviews and answer questions.
• Have access to a computer.
• NOT an international student visa. This is due to restrictions on international students’ research compensation.
• NOT currently experiencing severe/unstable health issues that need immediate medical attention.

Simplified by el-Sabbah, this study “sees how immune system reactions relates to depressive symptoms by challenging people’s immune system in a safe and well-practiced manner” and will help develop strategies to combat depression. According to the LIBR website, these tests will one day determine if patients who suffer from depression and “compromised immune function are less likely to benefit from the influenza vaccine.”

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Post Author: Brooke-Lyne Holland