New research out of Quebec City has discovered a possible link between the immune system’s response to stress — like that caused by bullying — and depression.
This research could be a breakthrough that leads to better medication. Right now, according to Caroline Ménard, a Laval University assistant professor at the Cervo Brain Research Centre, as many as half of patients suffering from depression do not respond well or at all to the treatment being prescribed.
“We know stress is one of the main reasons people become depressed,” said Ménard.
Ménard wants to know why some people fall victim to depression while others are able to cope. Her latest research shows there may be physical factors that play a role.
“Instead of studying depression as a brain disease, or the neurons that are the cells of the brain, we try to study it as a whole body disease, so we also look at the immune system, the vascular response and the brain,” she explained.
WATCH: A Quebec researcher wants to know why some people fall victim to depression while others are able to cope. The researcher is also trying to figure out why some treatments just don’t seem to work. As Global’s Raquel Fletcher explains, researchers have found a link between bullying and depression.
Experimenting on mice, where a bigger mouse is allowed to pick on, or “bully,” a smaller mouse, Ménard and her team discovered that the animals who demonstrate more signs of depression also showed a higher immune response when bullied, as if they were fighting off a physical illness.
This finding could lead to better drugs and care for people who suffer from depression.
“So maybe if we treat the brain, but we also treat the immune response, they could maybe have a better outcome for the treatment,” Ménard said.
This research also opens up the possibility of diagnosing depression with an MRI and allows for future research concerning groups who are particularly vulnerable to depression, like stroke victims.
“Fifty percent of the people who have a stroke, within the next five years, will become depressed, so then we could track and follow in the blood what’s going on with your immune signals,” Ménard said.
Ménard also hopes to learn why depression affects women more often than men. Ménard has made sure to bring on a team of women to work under her on an ongoing experiment comparing data from male and female mice, where “very big differences in immune response, and also brain response” have already been detected.
“I have women from all over the world, and also different programs, so medicine, mathematics, neuroscience… and to have this diversity, I think we move science forward faster,” she said.
“I think with stress and depression, everybody feels and lives stress in a different way, so to bring different outputs can help us with questions and everything, so I think it’s really important.”