Health & Wellbeing

Blood test provides first objective diagnosis of depression in adults

Blood test provides first obje...
Researchers have developed a blood test that can diagnose depression in adults (Photo: Shutterstock)
Researchers have developed a blood test that can diagnose depression in adults (Photo: Shutterstock)
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Researchers have developed a blood test that can diagnose depression in adults (Photo: Shutterstock)
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Researchers have developed a blood test that can diagnose depression in adults (Photo: Shutterstock)

Diagnosing depression can be a difficult task, currently relying on patients reporting symptoms – something those suffering depression don't always do – and doctors correctly interpreting them – which isn't easy as the symptoms are non-specific. Now researchers have developed a blood test to diagnose depression in adults, providing the first objective, scientific diagnosis for the condition.

Earlier this year, a team from the University of Vienna revealed that measuring the levels of serotonin in the blood showed promise for potentially diagnosing depression through a blood test. And in 2012, Eva Redei, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine developed a blood test to diagnose depression in adolescents that involved looking at 26 genetic blood markers.

Building on that research, Redei and a team at Northwestern have developed a blood test to diagnose depression in adults. In the team's study, they found that the levels of nine RNA blood markers in 32 patients, who were aged from 21 to 79 and had been independently diagnosed with depression after clinical interviews, were significantly different than levels in 32 non-depressed controls in the same age range.

After 18 weeks of therapy, both face-to-face and over the phone, changes in the levels of the markers allowed the researchers to differentiate between patients who had responded positively and were no longer depressed and those that remained depressed. The researchers say this is the first time a biological indicator has been used to indicate the success of cognitive behavioral therapy in adults suffering depression.

Additionally, examining the baseline levels of the nine markers in patients who subsequently recovered from depression after therapy allowed the researchers to identify a "fingerprint" from the blood test that would indicate which patients would benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy. This fingerprint didn't appear in depressed patients who didn't improve with the therapy.

Furthermore, the researchers found that the concentration levels of three of the nine RNA markers remained different in depressed patients and non-depressed controls, even if the depressed patients achieved remission after therapy. They say this suggests these three markers could indicate a vulnerability to depression.

"These three markers move us towards the ultimate goal of identifying predisposition to depression, even in the absence of a current depressive episode," said Redei.

"Being aware of people who are more susceptible to recurring depression allows us to monitor them more closely," added co-lead author David Mohr, a professor of preventive medicine and director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies at Feinberg. "They can consider a maintenance dose of antidepressants or continued psychotherapy to diminish the severity of a future episode or prolong the intervals between episodes."

Redei now plans to test the results in a larger population and will also examine whether the test can be used to differentiate between major depression and bipolar depression.

In the video below, Redei gives an overview of the research, which is published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

Source: Northwestern University

Northwestern Researcher develops first blood test to diagnose depression in adults

5 comments
Daishi
This is good news because it allows us to better understand treatment of depression which is needed. People on antidepressants are something like 8x more likely to commit suicide. You could rightfully argue that may just mean people who are not depressed don't commit suicide as often but it does still appear to be cause for concern. The other frightening component is the number of mass shooters who are know to be taking anti depressants. Gun ownership has been a mainstay of american living since the countries inception yet mass shootings are a relatively recent and growing phenomenon. Antidepressants are nearly as common of a theme in mass shootings as guns themselves yet people rarely talk about them because they are a less visible component. We barely understand the impact of some of the drugs we give people. Even Michael Moore who filmed the anti-gun documentary Bowling for Columbine is now asking about the role SSRI's maye have played in the massacre: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpinCRaAQOk Guns don't kill people, people with guns on antidepressants kill people.
EddieG
Fasten your seat belts! Yet another boutique disorder to enrich the pharmaceuticals industry! God save us from the practice of "medicine."
Robert in Vancouver
Great advance in medicine. And if some company gets rich because of this, that's good because that's the reason rare and valuable advances in medicine/science/technology are achieved. Is anyone so dumb to think Apple would have spent so much money creating the original Mac computer or the iPad if they thought they would just 'break even' on it?
bajessup
One notable feature of these results is that verbal, non-drug, psychological counselling demonstrated both subjective and biological benefits. " ... this is the first time a biological indicator has been used to indicate the success of cognitive behavioral therapy in adults suffering depression."
Nik
Rather than using anti-depressants, which merely try to modify the symptoms, or trying to talk people better, surely correcting the chemical imbalances would be a better solution? No one has ever been cured of 'psychiatric problems' with psychiatric drugs, they merely mask the symptoms while the underlying causes continue. Often the 'side effects' of drugs, are more unpleasant that the original problem. The real cure is to return the body chemistry to a proper balance, by giving the body the nutrients it needs. You are what you eat. A lot of modern diets are severely deficient in nutrients compared to the original diet of the 'hunter-gatherers' that roamed miles to feed. Their diet included plants from wide soil varieties, and animals that may have roamed even further afield. Modern people eat plant foods that are grown on the same soil; year after year, so the trace elements in that soil can become exhausted, and consequently diets are deficient. Correcting the deficiencies is likely to rebalance the body chemistry, harmonise the body functions. Lack of serotonin is a common cause of depression, selective serotonin re-uptake inhibiter's, [ssri's] merely make matters worse. Giving the body the nutrients it needs to manufacture serotonin is obviously a far better solution.