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Depression research centre to practice new way of diagnosing patients

Jesse Mellott | Fulcrum Staff

The University of Ottawa Institute of Mental Health Research (IMHR) has set up a depression research centre to help alleviate the challenges faced by health-care practitioners while maintaining an emphasis on total care.

The centre plans to assess many biological parameters including genetics, electrical activity in the brain, and biochemical analysis, as opposed to simply observing symptoms. Dr. Zul Merali is the president and CEO of the IMHR and the visionary behind the centre.

“What we are trying to create is a very research-informed pathway to treatment,” Merali said. “We want to start treating depression the way we would cancer or heart disease.”

The rationale for approaching depression treatment in this way is that it is currently diagnosed based upon symptoms.

“You’ll describe the symptoms, like having difficulty sleeping, or not eating well, or sleeping too much, or not having fun from things that use to be pleasurable,” explained Merali. “So based upon the number of symptoms you describe, we may classify you as being clinically depressed.”

According to Merali, this treatment is not always effective, because patients are not always completely open about their symptoms.

“[We are] successfully treating only about 30 per cent of the patients—the other 30 show you a bit of a response, and the other third won’t respond no matter what you do,” Merali explained.

Merali hopes that with the creation of the centre, treatment will be more personalized.

This is not the only initiative that Merali is involved in when it comes to treating and diagnosing depression. In addition to creating further depression-focused research centres across the country, he is helping create a network to deal with the illness on a national level, The network, called the Canadian Depression Research and Intervention Network, is receiving funding from the federal government.

“We will have a network where we will be talking together, sharing information, sharing research-based interventions, having annual conferences, training students across different sites, doing clinical trials together, and sharing the information so that when we have new ways of doing things they will trickle up right away,” Merali said.