Artificial Intelligence May Soon Be Able to Determine If A Depression Med Will Work for You

A.I. can predict depression outcomes, potentially improving the lives of millions, new study finds.

By Elizabeth Yuko, Ph.D.
March 10, 2020

One of the many frustrating parts about living with depression — and opting to try medication to treat the condition — is trying to find one that actually works for you. And because people with depression frequently also have other mental illnesses like generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, or obsessive compulsive disorder, finding the right meds is a tricky balancing act. That’s why new research out of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center is so promising: Scientists may soon be able to use artificial intelligence (A.I.) to determine whether a depression medication will work for you.

A new study, published in the journal Nature, looked at correlations between the effectiveness of an antidepressant and how a patient’s brain processes emotional conflict. The participants in the trial were shown images with text — which sometimes conflicted with the picture —  in quick succession. For example, they were shown an angry face with the word “happy” written on it. The person was asked to read the word before clicking on to the next image. Scientists then used A.I. to analyze the participants’ brain activity. 

The A.I. then identified specific regions of the brain that were most important in predicting whether participants would benefit from an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) — the most common group of antidepressants. Ultimately, the participants who had an abnormal neural response during an emotional conflict were less likely to see symptoms of their depression improve within eight weeks of starting an antidepressant. 

In the future, this team of scientists plans to conduct further research involving other biological indicators, like blood test results, to help get an even better idea of how to more effectively prescribe medication to people with depression. “We need to look at this issue in several ways to identify the many different signatures of depression in the body,” Madhukar Trivedi, M.D., the founding director of UT Southwestern’s Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care and co-author of the research, said in a statement. “The findings from these new studies are significant and bring us closer to using them clinically to improve outcomes for millions of people.”

About the writer:

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist and writer as well as an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University. She has written for print and online publications, including The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe AtlanticRolling StoneCNNFodor’sLifehackerReader’s Digest and Playboy.

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This site is for educational purposes and not a substitute for professional medical care by a doctor or otherwise qualified medical professional. The information provided by Outlier Magazine is on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services.

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