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Research for Relief brings Montana targeted mental health research

Research for Relief brings Montana targeted mental health research

A more targeted approach to mental health care could be on the horizon as some Montanans are getting involved with clinical trials exploring a different way to treat mental illnesses.

“Prescribing a treatment right now is trial and error, because all you have to inform you is the label of depression,” Dr. Amit Etkin, the founder and CEO of Alto Neuroscience, said.

Etkin, a former Stanford professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, leads the California-based biotech company. Alto Neuroscience’s Research for Relief Initiative looks to better target treatments for mental illnesses.

Current treatments diagnose people with broader classes of illnesses like depression or PTSD, Etkin said. This lacks specificity and groups a lot of biology together.

“The consequence of doing that is that the drugs and other treatments that we have for them, tend not to work that well and we don’t know for whom they actually work,” Etkin told NBC Montana.

Alto currently has FDA trials underway for four drugs, which aim to more effectively treat major depressive disorder, which is a subset of depression, and schizophrenia.

The current hypothesis is that these drugs could help individuals with certain biomarkers.

The trial approach is decentralized, meaning individuals in places like Montana, where there are no in-person sites, can take part. Participants can test for biomarkers at home with short tests on a computer or using an EEG, which measures brain activity.

The initiative had its first Montana participant in August 2022. The number grew to more than 100 Montanans in the research registry, as of late June.

Alto attributes this growth to continued outreach, the unmet need and a partnership with the Montana chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“By bringing the research here, you are shortening the time to bring it — the actual care — to Montana,” Matt Kuntz, the executive director of NAMI Montana, said.

Before Alto, NAMI Montana had been trying to bring a precision mental health care research study to Montana for more than a decade, Kuntz told NBC Montana.

Besides speeding up care, Kuntz said research without Montanans would not reflect how care is delivered in Big Sky Country, where challenges include a lack of providers.

Those interested in getting involved with the ongoing research can fill out an online survey.

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