New study claims blood test can identify depression


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Between the physiological effects of puberty and the emotional stress that comes with it, the average teenager isn’t exactly unfamiliar with mood swings. For that reason, it’s particularly difficult to diagnose depression in teens.

A study published Tuesday in the journal Translational Psychiatry claims to have found the solution to this problem: a blood test that can accurately confirm the presence of major depressive disorder in adolescents.

Eva Redei, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, led the research on two adolescent groups: one with major depressive disorder and one without. Each group consisted of 14 subjects — all 15 to 19 years old who had not taken antidepressants in the three months prior to the study — and the two groups were matched by sex and race.


How it works
Redei had discovered 26 genetic markers, derived from both genetic and stress-related origins, of major depression in previous studies conducted on rats. The adolescent groups in this study were tested for all 26 markers, and 11 showed up in the depressed teens but not the non-depressed teens. Additionally, the study claimed the blood test was able to differentiate between the teens with major depression and those with a combination of major depression and anxiety disorder.

The Daily Beast quoted Redei as saying, “MDD, which affects adolescents and young adults, is caused by both genetic and environmental factors, and each leaves different sorts of hints, or markers, in the bloodstream. By examining animal models of the disease from both these angles, the team of researchers was able to determine which markers would be most likely to show up in humans with MDD, and to narrow it down to a set that they could use to test for the disease.”


Potential benefits of a blood test for depression
Approximately 6.7% of U.S. adults and 11.2% of adolescents (13 to 18 years old) suffer from depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The National Institutes of Health defines the condition as “a mood disorder in which feelings of sadness, loss, anger or frustration interfere with everyday life for weeks or longer.”

Currently, the diagnosis of major depression relies on the patient’s ability to convey his or her feelings and the healthcare professional’s ability to pick up on the symptoms and correctly diagnose him or her. A blood test would introduce a more objective way of diagnosing the disorder, and it could help eliminate the misconception that depression is just an emotional funk that people should be able to shake off.

As Redei explained to Time Healthland: “The test could decrease the stigma since no one could say, ‘Just get yourself together.’ There is a set and defined imbalance shown in the test. Patients will feel less ostracized and will be more likely to see a physician.”

While an effective and reliable blood test to diagnose depression has the potential to improve the treatment of the disorder, it’s important to keep in mind that this research doesn’t mean psychiatrists are going to start taking blood samples anytime soon. The research was based on findings from animal testing, which isn’t always completely applicable to humans, and identifying those markers in only 14 subjects is a relatively small test group. More research on larger samples is necessary to confirm the test’s true potential and accuracy before actually integrating it into psychiatric health care.