London: Millions of people are suffering from depression, but the drugs available to treat them haven't changed much in 25 years. Two recent studies that focus on a new class of drugs are offering a new hope to these patients.
In depressed patients, brain cell communication breaks down. Current medications target a chemical called serotonin to help brain cells talk to each other. But it's present in just five percent of those cells.
These new drugs target a different chemical called glutamate, present in 80 percent of brain cells. Researchers believe these new drugs restore the lost communication better than older drugs, which can take months to kick in.
"The exciting part of some of these newer medications is that they might, in fact, produce very rapid antidepressant effects, within hours or days," a news channel quoted Dr. Gerard Sanacora of Yale University, who is leading one of the trials, as saying.
The new approach was accidentally discovered when doctors noticed that an anesthesia drug -- ketamine, which targets glutamate -- relieved depression. But it also caused symptoms that mimicked schizophrenia.
Dr. Ron Burch has been developing Glyx-13, one of these new medications.
"We found it has a very nice antidepressant effect, lasts for several days after a single dose and with no side effects of schizophrenia at all," said Burch.
In one study, patients taking an experimental drug had a 40-per cent improvement in symptoms, compared to 24 per cent on placebo.
The drugs are still in trials, and it may take three to five more years to FDA approval.