Brain scans to catch
depression before it starts
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[February 04, 2016]
By Ben Gruber
CAMBRIDGE, MASS. (Reuters) - Researchers at
MIT's McGovern Institute are using the latest advances in brain imaging
to identify children at high risk of depression before the debilitating
and sometimes deadly disorder sets in.
According to the World Health Organization an estimated 350 million
people of all ages suffer from depression. It's a serious mental
disorder that affects every aspect of a person's life and in severe
cases could lead to suicide.
The study involved two groups of children, one at high risk of
depression due to family history and a control group with kids at
Kids from both groups were scanned to map the network pathways in
their brains. The question was if the researchers could find
differences in brain activity that would be an indicator for a
higher risk of depression.
"They answer is there are very great differences. We saw differences
that were striking in a number of circuits including those that
change in depression, including those involved in feelings, other
parts that are involved in thinking. The additional thing besides
seeing these differences were that the differences were so strong
child by child that that we were very close to perfect with being
able to categorize from a brain scan itself whether a child was at
risk or not," said John Gabrieli, a professor of Brain and Cognitive
Sciences at MIT.
The goal going forward is to follow these children and see who among
the high risk group goes on to develop depression, tracking changes
in their brain function along the way .
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"Obviously the children that go on to depression the more we can
identify them well the more we are hopeful that we can get
preventive treatments going. Not waiting for them to be suffering
but helping them beforehand," said Gabrieli
"So we want to learn both to identify early children who are at true
risk, help them before they struggle and learn from those that are
resilient what is different about them because that might be a hint
about how to help the children that are not resilient," he added.
The researchers say a better understanding of how depression affects
the brain will ultimately lead to better treatment options for those
that are most at risk.
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