The Army is funding the research
The U.S. Army gave $3 million to the University of Indiana to develop an antidepressant that can be taken as a nasal spray. The grant could speed the development of a portable and easy-to-use device for preventing mental health problems.
One of the reasons depression and suicidal tendencies are so challenging to treat is that most medicines can't easily be delivered to the brain. Your brain is protected by the aptly named blood-brain barrier, which is specifically designed to keep any outside material from getting inside. While that's good in most situations, the barrier also keeps out medicines.
The nasal spray uses a nanoparticle delivery approach to send very tiny droplets of a drug called thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) into the body and across the blood-brain barrier. That way, the drug reaches the brain and dissolves slowly. TRH has demonstrated the potential to prevent suicide, depression, and bipolar disorder in other studies, but right now, a spinal tap is the only way to send it to the brain. If the researchers at the University of Indiana are successful, the delivery approach could lead to a new treatment that would be effective without being invasive. The technology could be applied to other diseases beyond mental illnesses, too.
Tragically, mental health problems are not uncommon in the military. The Army recently released data that showed suicides among soldiers have averaged one per day so far this year. It's an 18% increase from the same time period last year. And while there is a marked need and interest within the Army to bring those numbers down, a successful nasal spray could also be used by civilians.
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