Olusola Babalola, a sophomore human developmental & regenerative biology concentrator at Harvard University, studied the potential relationship between Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and cancer.
Cancer and Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) are two serious illnesses that affect a variety of people worldwide. Treatments have been sought out to address these two conditions separately, as they are seemingly different in origin and effect.
The Broad Summer Research Program really creates a family- one that is totally unexpected once you begin the program. I came in thinking that I would be alone in the process, that each session would just be another boring Zoom meeting with unfamiliar faces. But everyone’s enthusiastic participation and friendliness turned each session into the highlight of my day. Not only was it fun to learn R, a programming language, but it was interesting to apply it to cancer genomics, a field I had never once considered delving into before. While the research component program certainly intrigued me, it was truly the relationships I developed with my cohort that made this summer one of the best I have ever had. Each and every person’s unique and funny personalities meshed well with everyone else’s, and there was not a day in the program where I didn’t enjoy seeing my fellow peers. BSRP truly fostered great relationships among all of us students.However, recent scientific studies have shown that there appears to be some sort of link between MDD and an individual’s risk of having a certain type of cancer. In order to explore this potential genetic relationship further, genes that proved to have an association with both cancer and MDD were isolated from a list of genes in patients with depression. Among these genes, only one had been targeted in the 1980s by an antidepressant created by scientists- SS18L2. In studying this gene further, it was revealed that using the drug caroxazone to target the gene reduced depression symptoms in patients. However, caroxazone was taken off the market after scientists and doctors admitted they were unaware of its potential effects when mixed with certain foods or other medications. Next, the SS18L2 gene was compared to the top 15 cancers in the United States, in hopes of finding particular cancers that the gene was most strongly correlated with. The stronger the correlation between the SS18L2 gene and a cancer, the more likely that caroxazone would be effective in not only addressing the depression, but at reducing the cancer cells, and caroxazone’s potential as a treatment in today’s society, where interactions between drugs are more understood, would be reevaluated. Results suggest that the SS18L2 is strongly correlated with a broad variety of cancers. Because of this strong correlation with many different cancers, it is implied that caroxazone may be effective in treating both depression and certain cancers. The significance here for the future of medicine is that doctors may have to alter the drugs they use to treat cancer patients that specifically have depression. Future work includes identifying more possible genes that have a similar relationship, so that a wider variety of drugs may be effective in the same manner.
Project: Potential of SS18L2 Gene as Target for Simultaneous Depression and Cancer Treatment
Mentors: Cooper Galvin and Pierre Ankomah, Bhattacharyya Lab