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Depression is not Caused by Chemical Imbalance says Study

The study into serotonin disproves a theory believed for decades.

It is estimated that 8.3 million people in the UK alone take antidepressants daily. Citalopram, escitalopram and sertraline are some of the few drugs that are given to patients that are struggling with anxiety and depression. But, a new study has changed the way we see depression and its treatment, as it is revealed that a chemical imbalance or low serotonin levels are not the root causes. This scientific finding has opened a pandora’s box of potential for future treatment plans.

Antidepressants (The Independent)

The study, by scientists at the University College London, found no link between chemical imbalance and depression. Although this news will change the way we see antidepressants, doctors up and down the country are urging people not to stop taking the pills as the medication is still an effective treatment plan for those struggling with their mental health.

The lead professor of the study, Joanna Moncrieff, commented on the findings: “It is always difficult to prove a negative, but I think we can safely say that after a vast amount of research conducted over several decades, there is no convincing evidence that depression is caused by serotonin abnormalities, particularly by lower levels or reduced activity of serotonin.” The consultant psychologist then hints at her concern at the exponential increase in prescriptions by doctors in recent years: “The popularity of the ‘chemical imbalance’ theory of depression has coincided with a huge increase in the use of antidepressants.” She continued: “Thousands of people suffer from side-effects of antidepressants, including the severe withdrawal effects that can occur when people try to stop them, yet prescription rates continue to rise.”

Joanna Moncrieff disproves link between chemical imbalances and depression
UCL’s study lead, Joanna Moncrieff (Daily Mail)

It wasn’t until the 1990’s that SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) began to take hold of the general population. In just 30-plus years, 1 in 6 people in the UK is taking medication for depression. Since the discovery of the drugs, there has been a narrative pushed that a chemical imbalance is the cause and these pills are the solution. However, many doctors and psychiatrists have been arguing that this has been false. Finally, there is a comprehensive study to validate their doubts. Although this is a major breakthrough, it doesn’t necessarily offer any solutions or explanations as to what the cause of people’s depression is. But, it does mean that research into other avenues can now be explored more thoroughly.

Antidepressant side effects when treating depression
Potential side effects of SSRIs (Very Well Mind)

85-90% of the public are under the impression that a chemical imbalance causes depression, which has impacted people in a variety of different ways. “All I know is getting on an SSRI changed my life for the better,” said one Facebook user. “[Antidepressants] gave me a quality of life I’ve never imagined. It helped resolve some of the issues that led me into addiction,” they continued. Whilst it is exciting to imagine future treatments for depression, it is important to remember that SSRIs are an effective treatment plan for many people. And, stopping cold turkey can have damaging consequences. “It is high time to inform the public that this belief is not grounded in science,” said UCL’s Joanna Moncrieff.

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Vaxinia: First Human Patient Injected with Immunotherapy Virus to Fight Cancer

Could Vaxinia be a revolutionary treatment to certain cancerous tumours?

Immunotherapy is an alternative treatment for cancer, considered kinder than chemotherapy. It enhances the immune system to eliminate cancer cells instead of targeting both healthy and diseased, as chemotherapy does.

This type of therapy is considered to be effective against many cancers and can be implemented as a standalone treatment or along with other cancer treatments. Though, even this treatment is not a panacea for all of them. That’s because immunotherapy only produces durable responses in roughly 25% of patients. 

City of Hope is one of the world’s world-class cancer treatment and research centres and Daneng Li, MD, is the principal investigator of City of Hope’s Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research. Previous to the recent clinical trials, Daneng Li, MD mentioned how previous research on oncolytic viruses proved how these can stimulate the immune system to answer to and kill cancer.

Now, their team plans to release a cancer-eliminating virus using the immunotherapeutic approach known as Valxinia. Vaxinia’s full name is CF33-hNIS (VAXINIA), a type of oncolytic virus found in nature that can be modified to fight cancer. Imugene Limited is developing the virus; a company focused on developing immunotherapies to fight cancer.

Vaxinia virus
Vaxinia © Melatios Verras

Vaxinia treatment would begin with an injection directly into the tumours of patients with advanced metastatic tumours that had two last lines of the standard of care treatment. It could also be delivered intravenously. Clinical trials, such as those presented by Valxinia treatment, are underway to find newer ways to help the human body fight cancer. The company believes that Valxinia is the best option for improving patient outcomes in their battle against cancer. 

However, some risks and complications of immunotherapy include diarrhoea or colitis, bone or muscle pain, headaches, possible pneumonitis and skin rash.

Phase 1 clinical trials for Valxinia will begin soon to recruit 100 cancer patients with metastatic or advanced solid tumours across ten trial sites in Australia and the United States. Valxinia trials are anticipated to run for roughly 24 months.

If the safety of Valxinia is confirmed, participants in the first clinical trial will receive an immunotherapy drug known as pembrolizumab, a drug to improve the immune system’s strength at fighting cancer-triggering cells. 

Immunotherapy has been considered a game-changing treatment despite initial doubts about its effectiveness. Immunotherapy drugs were rejected for NHS funding in April, though the decision was taken back, and the organization has since vowed to fund the drug. 

Hopefully, this new treatment will become a breakthrough in oncology to treat cancer patients more effectively without the side effects of chemotherapy.