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Research aims to improve depression detection in multiple sclerosis patients

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MS Research Australia awards grant to researchers at Swinburne University of Technology to improve detection and treatment of depression in people living with multiple sclerosis.


By U2B Staff 

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MS Research Australia has awarded an incubator grant to a research team at Swinburne University of Technology to find ways to improve the detection and treatment of depression in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS).

This research, led by Research Fellow at the School of Health Sciences, Lisa Grech will focus on two key areas: The first area will examine how depression is currently assessed and managed by healthcare professionals in multiple sclerosis specialist clinics. The second area aims to identify existing barriers for healthcare professionals in assessing and treating depression in people with multiple sclerosis.

This study will address the findings of international research that despite the prevalence of depression among people with multiple sclerosis, detection rates are still insufficient –  in fact, while depression is two to three times more prevalent among people with multiple sclerosis compared the general population, detection is still low.

Commenting on this gap, Grech said, “Up to 36 per cent of people with multiple sclerosis and depression are undiagnosed, only 46% are referred for treatments when significant depressive symptoms are identified, and up to 65% receiving treatment still report moderate-to-severe depressive symptoms.”

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Other research supports these findings – depression is common in neurological conditions and can be associated with lower quality of life, higher health resource utilisation, and poor adherence to treatment. As depression affects around 20%–30% of people suffering from multiple sclerosis, evidence for a bidirectional association exists for each of these conditions.

Depression screening tools generally perform well in people who suffer from the condition, but are not without limitations. This is due to the prevalence of false positives due to the side-effects caused by treatment as well as a lack of resources for implementation.

This leads to the need for the implementation of screening tools in routine neurological care.

Adding on, Grech emphasised on the dire need for better treatments and detection processes and this grant will help fund the research to identify these processes.

This research is an important step towards improving detection, treatment and monitoring clinically significant depressive symptoms through multiple sclerosis specialist healthcare providers including neurologists and nurses.

Randomised controlled trials of formal screening interventions should be conducted to confirm that intervention strategies are efficacious and cost-effective.

Informal screening measures, including the selective use of instruments and interview questions during clinical interactions, that can be considered an element of good clinical care will also be explored in this study.

Grech has significant experience in researching the condition – her previous work involved improving health outcomes of people living with multiple sclerosis, focusing on the dual perspective of healthcare practitioner and the patient.

She was also involved in researching the ability of antidepressants to protect the multiple sclerosis patient’s nervous system.

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Commenting on this study, CEO of MS Research Australia, Matthew Miles said, “Australia is home to exceptional talents in the area of multiple sclerosis research, and we are excited to see the results of Grech’s efforts in the coming years.”

He also added, “Her findings will contribute to our understanding of MS, and the various ways we can better manage the symptoms of the disease.”

This grant, worth a total of AU$2.4 million is one of the 19 new projects supported through awards announced by MS Research Australia in January.

Other initiatives by the organisation include awarding fellowships, scholarships and travel grants that help to support and grow the Australian MS research workforce, as well as promoting global collaborations to stop and even reverse multiple sclerosis.

The group estimates that more than 25,600 people in Australia have multiple sclerosis, and roughly 10 people in that country are diagnosed with this disease every week.