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AI helps to predict whether antidepressants will work

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Researchers in the Netherlands have harnessed AI to successfully predict within a week whether an antidepressant would work in patients with major depresssive disorder (MDD).

Using an AI algorithm, a brain scan and an individual’s clinical information, the team from Amsterdam UMC and Radboudumc could see up to eight weeks faster whether or not the medication would work.

The finding are published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Liesbeth Reneman, Professor of Neuroradiology at Amsterdam UMC, said: “This is important news for patients.

“Normally, it takes six to eight weeks before it is known whether an antidepressant will work.”

The researchers whether they could predict the effect of the antidepressant sertraline, which is one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States and Europe.

In a previous US study, MRI scans were administered to 229 patients with MDD before and after a week of treatment with sertraline or placebo.

The Amsterdam research team then developed and applied an algorithm to this data to investigate whether they could predict the treatment response to sertraline.

This analysis showed that a third of patients would respond to the drug while two-thirds would not.

Prof. Reneman said: “With this method, we can already prevent two thirds of the number of ‘erroneous’ prescriptions of sertraline and thus offer better quality of care for the patient.

“Because the drug also has side effects.”

Eric Ruhé, psychiatrist at Radboudumc, added: “The algorithm suggested that blood flow in the anterior cingulate cortex, the area of brain involved in emotion regulation, would be predictive of the efficacy of the drug.

“And at the second measurement, a week after the start, the severity of their symptoms turned out to be additionally predictive.”

In the future, the new method may help to better tailor sertraline treatment to the individual patient.

Currently, there is no precise prediction tool in clinical use.

Instead, the patient is given the medication and after six to eight weeks – or in practice, often up to several months – a clinician will check whether the medication is working.

If the symptoms do not subside, the patient is given another antidepressant, in process that can repeat itself several times.

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