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Investigating the effects of antidepressants

Christopher Rohde, doctor and PhD student at Aarhus University, is receiving a Lundbeck Foundation Talent Prize

Could we reduce the tendency to self-harm in some patients suffering from depression if we give them methylphenidate – a drug better known under the brand name Ritalin and used to treat ADHD, primarily in children and adolescents?

The answer seems to be ‘yes’, as indicated in the 17 scientific articles published to date by doctor and PhD student Christopher Rohde. He was first author on ten of these articles.

This is a relatively high number of scientific articles to have on your CV as a 30-year-old researcher, and it is a reflection of Dr Rohde’s energy and talent. Recognition of these qualities has now resulted in a Lundbeck Foundation Talent Prize – an honour he will presumably be in a hurry to add to his CV.

Christopher Rohde is receiving one of the three Talent Prizes the Lundbeck Foundation will be awarding in 2020. Each prize comes with a monetary award of DKK 500,000. DKK 150,000 of this amount is a personal honorary award, and the remainder is to be spent on research.

 

Christopher Rohde qualified as a doctor from Aarhus University where he is currently writing his PhD at the Department of Clinical Medicine.

‘In general, my research revolves around the effect of medicines, particularly antidepressants. And my PhD project examines the effects of antidepressants on the course of type 2 diabetes,’ Christopher Rohde explains.

It is a well-known fact that certain types of antidepressants can cause patients to increase their calorie intake – for example by eating and drinking more high-calorie products such as cakes, sweets and soft drinks. Ultimately, this will lead to patients gaining weight – and overweight is one of the factors typically underlying development of type 2 diabetes.

‘My project studies two groups, both of which are in the process of developing type 2 diabetes. The subjects in the first group are already taking antidepressants, whereas the participants in the second group are not receiving this type of psychoactive drug,’ says Christopher Rohde.

The study is not yet quite complete. However, in comparing the two groups, Christopher Rohde has already made some noteworthy discoveries, and, so far, they are difficult to explain:

‘For instance, it seems that the patients who take psychoactive drugs are better at taking care of their diabetes than those who do not receive psychoactive drugs – both when it comes to taking diabetes medicine, and when it comes to maintaining a sensible blood sugar level. I’m not yet sure exactly why this is. It may be that the antidepressants – in some way or other – give an incentive to exercise, which in turn causes weight loss,’ Christopher Rohde suggests.

Another of the research projects in which he is involved studies lithium, an element that has been used to treat bipolar disorder for some time.
Lithium is effective in reducing the mood swings that characterize bipolar disorder. In spite of this, doctors have to some extent stopped prescribing it in recent years. Christopher Rohde explains:

‘Over time, lithium can actually have serious side effects in patients, such as thyroid problems and chronic kidney failure. For this reason, in many cases, doctors are choosing to prescribe other drugs.’

These alternatives are able to reduce the patient’s mood swings in the same way as lithium but may not prevent suicidal urges to the same degree as lithium.

‘This is certainly the way it’s looking at the moment. Whether this is right or not and how it is all connected are issues I’ll try to uncover in further research,’ says Christopher Rohde.

Read more about the Lundbeck Foundation’s Talent Prize winners 2020

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