How artificial intelligence can help pick the best depression treatments for you

Your brain knows the meds you need. Illustration by Dan Page for TIME

(Mandy Oaklander/ Time) — Seeking out help for depression is hard enough. It doesn’t make things any easier that it can take weeks, months or longer of trying different treatments to find something that works. Doctors typically start patients on antidepressants, but they take at least four weeks to start working, and research has shown that only about 30% respond well to the first drug they’re prescribed.

“Right now, treatment selection is purely based on trial and error,” says Dr. Madhukar Trivedi, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

But promising new research published in February in Nature Biotechnology suggests that a simple brain test, paired with insights from artificial intelligence (AI), can predict whether an antidepressant will work on a given patient.

Trivedi and a team of researchers took data from a previous study in which more than 200 people with depression had an electroencephalogram (EEG)—a non-invasive test that records a person’s brain waves through electrodes placed on their scalp—and were then given either sertraline (a widely prescribed antidepressant marketed as Zoloft) or a placebo for eight weeks. If those who responded well to sertraline shared a common brain-wave pattern, that might provide a big clue for whether or not any individual will respond to the drug. (…)

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