As UTEP was recently named a top-tier national research university, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences awarded a $400,000 grant to UTEP Associate Professor of Psychology Dr. Sergio Iñiguez.
This three-year grant gives Iñiguez the opportunity to study the safety of the anesthetic, ketamine, being used as an antidepressant for youth. He will also examine the possible side effects that may come with taking this drug.
The study titled “Enduring Effects of Juvenile Ketamine Exposure,” is a stepping stone to discovering new information. The UTEP professor believes the university will benefit from the findings of this study, especially with UTEP now as a top-tier research institution. UTEP would become one of the few leading institutions that are giving out this type of information.
Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic that is usually used in veterinary settings. It is also known as a “date-rape” drug however, this drug contains antidepressant properties. According to Iñiguez the drug has the potential to become a new treatment for depression.
“There are clinical trials right now that are examining whether using ketamine in juveniles would be an effective treatment for depression,” said Iñiguez. “In adults, there’s pretty good evidence that it does actually provide these antidepressant effects.”
In this study, Iñiguez’s focuses on examining the safety of this drug. He is only using behavioral methods with rodents to examine the long-lasting side effects of ketamine. The study directed by Iñiguez also collects information on memory performance and the animal’s behavior.
“I specifically examine if the treatment, when you’re an adult, will lead to undesired side effects like memory impairment, potential increased drug liability, and so on,” Iñiguez said. “I don’t want to take the side that I’m anti using this drug or pro using this drug. I think it’s just like any drug; you need to be aware of the different side effects that may result.”
Iñiguez’s research team includes four undergraduate students and three graduate students who represent departments that include psychology, chemistry and biological sciences.
According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States among people ages 15-44. Also in Texas, 34 percent of adolescents experience depression symptoms. However, less than 50 percent of depression victims actually receive treatment.
“The number one way to treat a depressed juvenile population right now is pharmacologically. So, we give them antidepressants like Prozac,” said Iñiguez. “Sadly, close to 60 or 70 percent don’t respond anyway. So one of the things that the field of psychology is trying to do is find new treatments.”
“Regardless of what we discover, I think it’s exciting. It potentially gives us more of a green light for us to continue securing these type of grants and continue this line of research in return, I think we all grow. Our knowledge grows, UTEP grows as a research institution, my research program grows, and so on.”