New research from the Queen Mary University of London and the University of Roehampton, London suggests mental health conditions such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) could be treated in a new way using drugs that target the immune system, rather than the central nervous system. The new treatment offers hope for a gamechanging intervention that could significantly ease anxiety, compulsive behavior, and other disorders with few of the side effects of existing techniques.
“There is mounting evidence that the immune system plays an important role in mental disorders. And in fact people with auto-immune diseases are known to have higher than average rates of mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and OCD. Our findings overturn a lot of the conventional thinking about mental health disorders being solely caused by the central nervous system” explained Professor Fulvio D’Acquisto, who led the research.
D’Acquisto came upon these findings by accident. Initially, he was studying the role of the protein Annexin-A1 in autoimmune diseases. He created transgenic mice that over-expressed Annexin-A1 in cells known to be related to autoimmune diseases in order to better understand these illnesses. But D’Acquisto and his team quickly found that the mice’s anxiety levels were unexpectedly much higher than normal. Eventually, they pinpointed one particular protein that accounted for the increased anxiety, which they named Immuno-moodulin or Imood. They found that when the mice were given an antibody to suppress Imood, their anxiety levels went back down to normal levels.
Next, the researchers validated these findings by scanning 23 human patients experiencing OCD and 20 people not experiencing OCD. They found that Imood was six times higher in patients with OCD than those without it, suggesting it plays a critical role in the development and perpetuation of the illness.
D’Acquisto and Dr. Dianne Cooper are now working with a biopharmaceutical company to develop antibodies against Imood. Their hope is that these antibodies that can eventually be used as a treatment for patients with mental disorders. However, they warned it could be several years before the treatment is greenlit for medical trials.
These findings offer hope for those suffering from OCD, ADHD, and other illnesses. This work not only gives us much greater insight into how to treat these often debilitating diseases, but also further highlights the key role of brain chemistry in causing them. As with depression, many still believe anxiety, OCD, and other similar issues are ultimately a failure of will. They are the patient’s own fault. This new research underscores even further that these diseases are often largely a product of brain chemistry, through no fault of the patients.
Perhaps then, the biggest gamechanger emerging from this research will be how those of us not experiencing OCD think of, treat, and care for those who are suffering from it.
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