Health & Medicine

More powerful than Prozac? UC researchers target brain enzyme in mice.

Capsules of fluoxetine, the chemical name for the popular antidepressant Prozac, are sorted at a packaging line at Barr Laboratories in Forest, Va., in 2001.
Capsules of fluoxetine, the chemical name for the popular antidepressant Prozac, are sorted at a packaging line at Barr Laboratories in Forest, Va., in 2001. The News & Advance file

Every two weeks, we gather interesting and intriguing studies from health researchers around the world. Here are some of the latest:

More powerful than Prozac?

A faster cure for depression is driving University of California, San Diego researchers, who report success in suppressing a brain enzyme as part of treatment that could be more potent than Prozac.

Using tests on mice, researchers discovered that inhibiting a certain enzyme, known as Glyoxalase 1, reduced depression-like symptoms in five days, whereas it took 14 days to have the same effect with Prozac, a conventional anti-depressant.

“There are currently no approved fast-acting antidepressants, so finding something like this is unusual,” said study co-author Stephanie Dulawa, associate professor of psychiatry at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, in a statement.

Her team has applied for a patent and is working with UC San Diego chemists to develop drugs that target the enzyme. Their hope is to help develop a new class of faster-acting antidepressant medications, although it will be years before such drugs could be tested on humans.

Diabetes nasal spray for Alzheimer’s

Can an insulin nasal spray for diabetics help Alzheimer’s patients? That’s the question behind a new clinical trial that’s seeking 240 U.S. volunteers to study whether insulin nasal spray can improve memory for patients with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s called the Study of Nasal Insulin to Fight Forgetfulness, or SNIFF. Researchers at 26 U.S. medical centers, including the University of California, Irvine, are recruiting participants for the 18-month clinical trial. It’s based on evidence that insulin, a naturally occurring hormone, performs multiple functions in the brain, but when disrupted, it may contribute to development of Alzheimer’s.

Researchers predict that after 12 months of treatment, participants who take intranasal insulin daily will improve their cognitive performance, compared with those who get a placebo. After the initial 12 months, all participants will get six months of the insulin spray.

The study’s co-sponsor is the Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute at the University of Southern California. For details on the study, go to the website for the National Institute on Aging's center on Alzheimer's disease research,

Using our brains to treat our guts

Can treating our minds help our guts? It’s long been known that everyday stress and worry can intensify and aggravate some gastrointestinal conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis and “functional” heartburn and dyspepsia.

Now, health psychologists say that psychological and behavioral treatments – using the so-called “brain-gut axis” – can help calm symptoms and improve daily life.

Biochemical signals between the brain and the gastrointestinal tract can worsen certain disorders, according to Sarah Kinsinger, a Loyola University Health System psychologist in Illinois who specializes in treating gastrointestinal conditions. In a vicious cycle, worrying about or dwelling on severe pain, constipation, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptoms can make the situation worse, which then increases stress, she said.

Kinsinger uses a variety of interventions that target brain-gut pathways, such as diaphragm deep breathing and “gut-directed” hypnotherapy for relaxation. She teaches cognitive-behavioral therapy that’s shown to help with irritable bowel syndrome, as well as overall strategies to manage symptoms and reduce stress

In many patients, these treatments can be more effective than medications, said Kinsinger. She usually sees patients for five to seven sessions, which are typically covered by insurance.

“It is very gratifying to see patients get better after in some cases suffering for many years,” said Kinsinger, in a statement.

“Psychological and behavioral interventions do not cure their disease,” she said, but can provide patients with safe, effective coping mechanisms and “greatly reduce the severity of their symptoms.”

Claudia Buck: 916-321-1968, @Claudia_Buck