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Research Roundup: Antidepressants, carbon sinks, preventing preterm delivery

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Each week, The Daily’s Science & Tech section produces a roundup of the most exciting and influential research happening on campus or otherwise related to Stanford. Here’s our digest for the week of Feb. 9 – Feb. 15.

Brain wave signals provide insight into antidepressant treatments

A novel method of analyzing brain activity can shed light on which patients will best respond to a specific depression treatment, a study published on Feb. 10 in “Nature Biotechnology” found.

“This study takes previous research showing that we can predict who benefits from an antidepressant and actually brings it to the point of practical utility,” psychiatry and behavioral sciences professor Amit Etkin told Stanford Medicine News. “I will be surprised if this isn’t used by clinicians within the next five years.”

The researchers used a tool called electroencephalography to monitor electrical brain activity and an artificial intelligence-based algorithm to identify brain signals in patients who will positively respond to the antidepressant Zoloft.

“Using this method, we can characterize something about an individual person’s brain,” Etkin told Stanford Medicine News. “It’s a method that can work across different types of EEG equipment, and thus more apt to reach the clinic.”

Map predicts areas that can serve as carbon sinks

A global data map on understanding current plant growth can predict which regions of the world can absorb large quantities of carbon dioxide emissions to form environmentally beneficial carbon sinks in the future, a study published on Feb. 10 in “Nature Geoscience” reports.

“Farmers and foresters spend considerable money and time analyzing the nutrient needs of crops and trees,” earth system science professor Rob Jackson told Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment News. “This study is a step toward doing that for natural forests and grasslands.”

The team focused on mapping regions with high concentrations of phosphorus and nitrogen, two nutrients important for plant growth. Their findings suggested plants growing on 40% of Earth’s land are limited by inadequate phosphorus, and plants growing on 20% of Earth’s land are limited by inadequate nitrogen.

Understanding plant growth limitations can help researchers plan conservation efforts to allow plant-based ecosystems to serve as larger carbon sinks, thus absorbing carbon dioxide emissions from the environment.

Antacid may prevent pregnant women from preterm delivery

Collaborating UCSF and Stanford researchers discovered that a commonly prescribed antacid may prevent pregnant women from going into preterm labor, a study published in “Journal of Clinical Investigation Insight” on Feb. 13 found.

“The fact that we could come up with a compound that could be helpful to patients and fairly safe is very exciting to me,” Marina Sirota, a UCSF pediatrics assistant professor, told Stanford Medicine’s blog, SCOPE. “With this approach, we’re speeding up the drug discovery process tremendously.”

Using computer algorithms to evaluate drugs, the researchers identified lansoprazole, a common antacid used to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease. Once identified, the team tested lansoprazole in pregnant rodents with promising results to prevent preterm delivery.

Although results from the rodent models are encouraging, clinical trials are essential before the drug can be recommended to patients.

Contact Derek Chen at derekc8 ‘at’ stanford.edu.