Patty’s cake binge scene in controversial Netflix comedy Insatiable is a brutal image of depression — she had just publicly destroyed her surrogate father after all — but what if, in the real world, what you eat could be a cure?

Researchers in Queensland are up to round two of a clinical trial testing whether a probiotic sold by Medlab Clinical (ASX:MDC) might help reduce the severity of depression.

The phase 2a trial, led by QUT researcher Dr Esben Strodl, wants 150 people who aren’t responding to medication to show that improving gut health can make standard depression medicine more effective.

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are said to be good for the digestive system.

Medlab says 1500 people have tried to get in with 90 accepted, but it may close the books at 130 people as “preliminary reports are highlighting a potential efficacious trendline”, or positive results, the company said in a statement.

Medlab CEO Dr Sean Hall says the trial is blinded, so they don’t know whether the improvement is within the group given the product or the placebo, but as one half of the volunteers are “improving out of sight”, they’re assuming it’s the product.

“We know there are some bacteria in probiotics that we believe are rescuing gut function, which makes us think that we can probably reduce the amount of different probiotics in the formulation” he told Stockhead.

“In rescuing the gut function we are allowing less toxins to go from the gut wall into the central nervous system, or cross the blood-brain barrier.”

He also suspects the probiotic is making “orotic acid”, an important part of the gut that allows the body to absorb folic acid and vitamin B12, easier for the body to use and that is the basis for the therapeutic effect of the product.

QUT’s researchers have been contacted for comment.

The phase 1 trial, which finished in 2015, showed an 80-90 per cent improvement among the 30 volunteers, who’d been on prescription antidepressants for an average of 2.5 years.


The way to a man’s (or woman’s) heart is through their stomach

The concept of the ‘gut-brain axis’ started getting really popular in the last decade.

It theorises that changes in intestinal bacteria affect psychiatric conditions, such as anxiety or depression.

This is because the intestine has its own, separate, nervous system that makes many of the same neurotransmitters the brain does, such as the happy hormone serotonin.

Research has mainly focused on serotonin being the main conduit for the gut and the brain to talk to each other.

Medlab wants to use any positive results from the trial to create a Therapeutic Goods Administration-approved drug for the $US15.6 billion ($23 billion) global depression medication market. The probiotic on trial is currently sold as an over-the-counter nutraceutical.

“We are looking at, in short, developing a medication that hopefully will address a unique cohort, those over 18 years of age, who have been on antidepressants, with little to no improvement in symptoms and/or quality of life (QoL),” Hall said in a statement.

“Presently this treatment resistant group accounts for about one-third of all medicated depression patients.”

Now watch: 90 Seconds With… Dr Sean Hall, Medlab Clinical Limited


In other ASX health news today:

Oncosil (ASX:OSL) has European approval — a CE Mark — for its radioactive isotope implant to treat pancreatic and liver cancers. It means the company can now start planning how it will sell into the region.

Mayne Pharma (ASX:MYX) has licensed a “generic topical dermatology product” to sell into the US, but neglected to say what it does. The company told Stockhead it could be for acne, or eczema, or dermatitis, but won’t give us a clue as to which one.

The disintegration of Eagle Health’s (ASX:EHH) board continues, as two more directors and the company secretary bounce. Last week two of the Chinese directors resigned citing personal reasons, and were replaced by one man.

Today, Eagle said chairman Andrew Thompson, a former Liberal party Minister for Sport, director Rodney Hannington, and company secretary Kobe Li had quit. They’ve been replaced by Perth broker Brendan de Kauwe and Henko Vos as company secretary. Director Andrew Smith has ascended to the chairmanship.