Jane Foster, Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry
DALLAS – September 08, 2022 – The role of the microbiome in gut and systemic health has been the focus of attention among researchers for many years. Today, there is growing evidence that this collection of microorganisms in the human gut can also impact a person’s neurological and emotional health, according to a recent insight article in Science by a researcher at UT Southwestern.
Neuroscientist Jane Foster, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern and leading expert on the microbiome, explains how scientists are unraveling the relationship between the microbiome and the brain, including links to diseases such as depression and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Dr Foster, who first linked microbes in the guts of mice to anxiety, said animal studies have revealed certain related microbes and metabolites that increase anxious behavior and brain function. . Applying these findings to clinical populations could lead to new therapies to improve symptoms and clinical outcomes.
Dr. Foster joined UT Southwestern and its Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care (CDRC) in May to lead the effort to connect the dots between a person’s 39 trillion gut microbes and their propensity for brain disease. Previously, she was a professor at McMaster University in Ontario and co-molecular leader of the Canadian Network for Integrating Biomarkers in Depression (CAN-BIND).
There is growing evidence that microorganisms in the human gut can impact a person’s neurological and emotional health. Credit: JH Carr, CDC, via NIH.
“People at risk of depression or who have been diagnosed with depression are heterogeneous. So we want to use biology to understand biomarkers that can help define different groups of people,” Dr Foster said.
She said UT Southwestern’s approach, which is based on the principle that clinical care and research go hand in hand, prompted her to join the center.
“This holistic approach is needed if we are to find better answers for people with mental illness,” Dr. Foster said.
The CDRC conducts research on unipolar and bipolar depression to better understand the causes of depression, identify new treatments, and improve existing ones.
“I am very pleased that we were able to recruit Dr. Foster to join our center, given our continued goal of investigating the biosignature of mental health through a multi-pronged approach,” said Madhukar H. Trivedi, MD, professor of psychiatry and director of the CDRC.
Drs. Foster and Trivedi previously collaborated to search for immune markers in blood samples obtained via CAN-BIND to see how inflammation might influence depression, and in stool samples collected from participants in the Texas Resilience Against Longitudinal Study. Depression. If the sample from a patient with depression contains certain microbes associated with successful treatment of certain antidepressants or therapies, this may lead to personalized medicine for that patient.
“Currently we have a host of treatment choices, but decisions are mostly based on behavior and self-report, and imaging and EEGs in some cases,” Dr. Foster said. “Antidepressants typically work for about 40% of people. Other choices include cognitive behavioral therapy, deep brain stimulation, or even exercise and diet. By expanding the individual patient profile, can we now improve the number of people who respond to a particular treatment?”
Dr. Trivedi holds the Betty Jo Hay Chair of Excellence in Mental Health and the Julie K. Hersh Chair in Depression Research and Clinical Care.
About UT Southwestern Medical Center
UT Southwestern, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has received six Nobel Prizes and includes 26 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 17 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 14 researchers from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Full-time faculty of more than 2,900 are responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and committed to rapidly translating scientific research into new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in more than 80 specialties to more than 100,000 inpatients, more than 360,000 emergency room cases, and oversee nearly 4 million outpatient visits annually.