Scientists Develop New Blood Test That Could Diagnose Your Level of Depression

A newly developed system that monitors for blood biomarkers linked to mood disorders could lead to new ways to diagnose and treat depression and bipolar disorder, all beginning with a simple blood test.

While depression has been recognized for centuries and affects hundreds of millions of people worldwide, the traditional diagnosis still depends on clinical assessments by doctors, psychologists, and psychiatrists.

Blood tests might inform such health assessments, to check whether symptoms of depression might be related to other factors, but they’re not used in clinical practice to objectively and independently diagnose the condition itself. The new research suggests this could be a practical option in the future.

In the new study, researchers have identified 26 biomarkers – measurable and naturally occurring indicators – in patients’ blood variably linked to the incidence of mood disorders including depression, bipolar disorder, and mania.

“Blood biomarkers are emerging as important tools in disorders where subjective self-report by an individual, or a clinical impression of a health care professional, are not always reliable,” says psychiatrist and neuroscientist Alexander B. Niculescu from Indiana University.

“These blood tests can open the door to precise, personalized matching with medications, and objective monitoring of response to treatment.”

Niculescu has explored this territory for several years, developing similar blood biomarker-based tests to help predict suicidality in patients, diagnose severe pain, and gauge levels of PTSD.

In the new study, conducted over the course of four years, the researchers worked with hundreds of patients at the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis, conducting a series of tests to identify and confirm gene expression biomarkers in blood that might be tied to mood disorders.

In visits with patients with depression who agreed to take part, their mood (ranging from low to high) was tracked in each session, with samples of their blood taken at the time.

Comparing the samples against a massive database comprised of information gleaned from 1,600 studies on human genetics, gene expression, and protein expression, the team identified a series of biomarkers linked to mood disorders, shortening the list to 26 biomarker candidates after validating their results in a second cohort of patients.

In a final test, the researchers investigated another group of psychiatric patients to see whether the 26 identified biomarkers could determine mood, depression, and mania in the participants and also predict outcomes such as future hospitalizations.

After all these steps were taken, the researchers say 12 of the biomarkers provide particularly strong links to depression, with six of the same tied to bipolar disorder, and two biomarkers that can indicate mania. [ … ]

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