In one of the first studies of its kind, a machine learning approach will be used to determine optimal treatments for patients with depression, particularly in the Indian context. If successful, this technological tool can also be used in low- and middle-income countries.
The study funded by the US National Institute of Mental Health will be a collaborative effort between Sangath, a 26-year-old mental health research organization based in Goa with regional centers in Pune, Bhopal and New Delhi, and AIIMS Bhopal. .
Dr. Vikram Patel of Harvard Medical School and co-founder of Sangath said this precision medicine approach to treating depression will also examine whether polygenic risk scores can predict response to antidepressants or psychological counseling. “This is a four-year project and will be implemented in close collaboration with AIIMS Bhopal. The study will involve a sample of 1,500 patients,” he said. He and Dr. Steve Hollon of Vanderbilt University will lead the study as project researchers.
The machine learning approach will consider various data points such as specific genetic factors, family information, medical and clinical history that will predict treatment outcomes in patients with depression. The research study is based on the assumption that using a machine learning approach to select the optimal treatment for each patient will prove more effective than leaving things to chance.
Depression is a major contributor to the global burden of disease. Recently, WHO Chief Scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan tweeted that one billion people live with a mental health disorder. Suicide accounts for one in 100 deaths, especially among adolescents. “Yet the government spends 2% of health budgets on mental health care. At WHO, the pandemic has sparked a push for global mental health transformation,” Dr Swaminathan tweeted.
The study researchers said: ‘In moderate to severe depression, a patient is offered either medication (antidepressant medication) or counseling or both. However, what is the right treatment for each patient is a difficult decision and the protocol involves trying various alternatives. The research study aims to improve treatment outcomes for patients with depression by personalizing treatment options.
The study is being conducted in collaboration with the National Health Mission, Madhya Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh Department of Health and AIIMS Bhopal to improve depression care in low-resource primary health care settings.