Research Profile: Elham Satvat

Psychology department researcher Elham Satvat’s research is centred around the human brain’s generation of neurons under the effects of anti-depressants and focuses largely on comparing the effects of the medication to the effects of physical activity.

All adult brains produce new neurons in a process called neurogenesis, she said. These neurons assist with performance, memory and cognition.“In depression, the number of these new neurons are suppressed,” she said. Anti-depressants are supposed to assist with the reproduction of these neurons. However, according to Satvat, the results are paradoxical.

“When you look at some clinical studies, there are so many reports that people who are taking anti-depressants also have problems with memory and cognition,” she explained.

“That’s where my study comes into play,” Satvat told The Cord. She has received a $60,000 grant from NARSAD: The Brain and Behaviour Research Fund to continue her research.

“I hypothesize that maybe the new neurons that are produced by anti-depressant treatments are not functioning the way they should.”

Satvat’s research looks to find the cause of this malfunction. She says one option is to look at the genes involved in memory and cognition to determine if they are defective.

Satvat is also looking at alternatives to medication. She stated that physical activity such as running or biking have been proven to assist in the production of new neurons.

“There’s a correlation between the number of new neurons and performance — for example, running and physical activity usually correlated with the performance of a specific task.”

“I’m comparing [anti-depressants] with physical activity to see what’s the difference between the neurons that are generated from physical activity to neurons generated from anti-depressants.”

Satvat, who has been working on the project for over a year, is greatly appreciative of the grant she was awarded. “They have a grant that’s specific to young investigators, and that’s the one that I got,” she said. “I’m so excited about this grant. I’ve been very privileged to have it.”