CBS news reports on a new blood test that could decipher whether a person has clinical depression.

What does this mean?

Depression has been extremely difficult to definitively diagnose by psychiatrists and psychologists. And a diagnosis means the taking of strong medication such as Paxil. Therefore, patients need a definitive diagnosis, such as one made by a blood test, before pursuing such a treatment plan.

How was the study conducted?

“Researchers at Northwestern University have developed the first blood test that analyzes levels of nine blood biomarkers associated with adult clinical depression. The results of their study were published Tuesday in the journal Translational Psychiatry. The test looks at levels of nine RNA blood markers, which appear to be different among patients with diagnosed clinical depression versus those who do not have depression. RNA are the molecules that help to process DNA genetic code and carry out its instructions,” according to CBS.

Why is depression so complicated?

Clinical depression is not just difficult to treat. The disease can also be hard to diagnose in the beginning. Experts are always looking for better options to figure out this difficult mental disease in patients who may not want to openly discuss it. Now a new study shows that an easy blood test could soon allow physicians to diagnose clinical depression as easily as they check a person’s cholesterol level.

What were the results of the study?

CBS reports, “This preliminary study of 32 adults aged 21 to 79 found that levels of these markers changed after 18 weeks of cognitive behavior therapy. The test was capable of detecting physical evidence that the therapy was working among patients who reported feeling less depressed after receiving therapy for this length of time. The researchers say this finding is especially promising since some patients in the study had not had any luck with antidepressant medications. This particular blood test would only be useful for adults, since the researchers found blood biomarkers were different among clinically depressed adolescents.”

What are the benefits of the test? This new blood test will offer a new way to apply personalized medicine to the treatment of mental illness. This is particularly applicable to antidepressants as well as some talk and cognitive behavioral therapies that are not helpful for all patients with depression. Statistics show that more than 18 million adults in the U.S. suffering from clinical depression. Today, doctors diagnose depression through a number of subjective observations of behavior and mood, as well as a patient's own self-reported data on their life.

Web MD also reported on the new test for depression.

The report goes into an analysis of how the test works to find depression in a patient’s body.

“The test measures the levels of nine genetic indicators (known as ‘RNA markers’) in the blood. The blood test could also determine who will respond to cognitive behavioral therapy, one of the most common and effective treatments for depression, and could show whether the therapy worked. Depression affects nearly 7 percent of U.S. adults each year, but the delay between the start of symptoms and diagnosis can range from two months to 40 months, the study authors pointed out,” according to Web MD.

What is specifically tested in a patient’s blood?

The blood test works by measuring the blood concentration of the RNA markers in a person’s blood work. A cell's RNA molecules are what decipher its genetic code and then give way to those instructions from a person’s DNA. After blood is taken, the RNA is isolated, measured and compared to RNA levels from a non-depressed person's blood work.

Web MD reports, “Among the depressed participants who recovered with therapy, the researchers identified differences in their RNA markers before and after the therapy. Meanwhile, the concentration of RNA markers of patients who remained depressed still differed from the original results of the non-depressed patients. Three of the RNA markers in the adults who recovered remained a little different from those who were never depressed, indicating the possibility that these markers might show a susceptibility to depression, the authors noted. Additionally, if the levels of five specific RNA markers line up together, that suggests that the patient will probably respond well to cognitive behavioral therapy.”

How accurate is the test? Around seventy-two to eighty percent, which experts say is quite good.

Gerry Oginski
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