A clinical study conducted by the University of Cambridge has suggested efficacy of the drug modafinil for improving memory in patients recovering from depression.

Patients suffering from depression experience difficulties in concentration, memory, and attention.

Funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and Wellcome, the randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study was conducted by researchers from the Department of Psychiatry and the Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute at the University of Cambridge who explored potential of modafinil to treat cognitive dysfunction in depression.

The study involved 60 patients between the ages of 18 and 65 with remitted depression.

The patients were subjected to computerised memory, attention and planning tasks after being administered with modafinil or a placebo.

Patients receiving modafinil showed improvements in episodic memory and working memory functions, compared to those on placebo.

The patients were also observed to commit fewer errors than those who received a placebo in tasks that involved remembering things. For instance, during a task that involved remembering the location among an increasing number of boxes of a specific pattern, patients receiving modafinil made fewer than half the number of mistakes that those receiving the placebo made.

University of Cambridge department of psychiatry and study lead author Dr Muzaffer Kaser said: “These results are very promising.

“GPs or psychiatrists often hear complaints of concentration or memory difficulties from patients with depression, but we are not good enough at treating these symptoms.

"Our study shows that modafinil may be a feasible option to tackle persistent cognitive problems in depression."

“Our study shows that modafinil may be a feasible option to tackle persistent cognitive problems in depression.”

The researchers are yet to determine the efficacy of the drug in treating the condition for a longer period.

The study’s senior author Professor Barbara Sahakian added: “We now need a longer term study using modafinil to see if the drug, which improves cognition and motivation, can facilitate a successful return to work following depression.”

Modafinil has already demonstrated its efficacy in improving cognitive function in psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia.

Image: Patient suffering from depression. Photo: courtesy of Johanna Hardell / University of Cambridge.