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A Blood Test to Diagnose Depression | The Wait Is Over!

Am I Depressed

“Dang, the number of times I’ve wondered – am I depressed? Well, I know I’m depressed, but do I have major depressive disorder? If only there was a depression test. Then I’d know for sure, and could get just the right treatment – for me.”

News flash! The wait appears to be over. And this is just huge, in many ways. Let’s take a look at a groundbreaking study, published September 16, 2014 in Translational Psychiatry.

This clearly indicates that you can have a blood-based laboratory test for depression, providing a scientific diagnosis in the same way someone is diagnosed with high blood pressure or high cholesterol – Eva Redei, PhD

Northwestern Medicine® (Chicago) scientists have developed the first blood test to diagnose “major depression” in adults. Folks, we’re talking about an objective, scientific diagnosis here. And that’s because the test measures levels of nine RNA blood markers. FYI – RNA molecules are the messengers that interpret DNA genetic code and carry out its instructions.

Were this only about the diagnostic piece, it’d be plenty. But there’s more. The blood test also predicts who will benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), based upon the action of some of the measured blood markers.

But wait, Batman, there’s even more. The test shows the actual biological impact of CBT. I mean, was it successful, or not? That’s right, levels of markers changed in study subjects who’d participated in CBT for 18 weeks and reported they were no longer depressed.

The good news from study co-lead author Eva Redei, PhD, who developed the test…

This clearly indicates that you can have a blood-based laboratory test for depression, providing a scientific diagnosis in the same way someone is diagnosed with high blood pressure or high cholesterol. This test brings mental health diagnosis into the 21st century and offers the first personalized medicine approach to people suffering from depression.

Now, we’ve discussed personalized medicine here on Chipur. In Depressed? Which Antidepressant Is Right For You? Enter Genetics! we reviewed available tools to assist in understanding genetic and biological markers that best predict responses to psychiatric treatments.

Our Antiquated Diagnostic Tradition

Guess I don’t have to remind a Chipur reader how depression (anxiety, bipolarity, and more) has traditionally been diagnosed. Yep, let’s open that DSM and roll the bones. It’s all been purely subjective. And, fact is (was?), reported symptoms, as well as observed signs, could be manifestations of any number of emotional/mental or physical maladies. And then there’s the matter of compromised ability to report symptoms, as well as the “Why bothers?” Oh, and let’s not forget errors in reception and interpretation by the clinician.

But those worn-out realities appear to be behind us.

How the Study Went Down

So let’s dig-in to the study goings-on. Participants included 32 adults who’d been independently diagnosed as depressed in a clinical interview – and 32 non-depressed. Some of the participants had been on antidepressants for a time, but continued to be depressed. By the way, the participants were involved in a previously reported study comparing the effectiveness of face-to-face and telephone-administered CBT.

Now, before CBT participation, the study team found nine RNA blood markers with levels significantly different in the depressed participants versus the non-depressed. And it was these markers that enabled the team to diagnose depression.

After 18 weeks of CBT (face-to-face and telephone), changed levels of markers differentiated participants who responded positively and were no longer depressed from those who remained depressed – based upon a clinical interview and self-reported symptoms.

So in addition to diagnosing depression, the blood test actually predicts who will benefit from CBT, based upon a distinct pattern – fingerprint – of the nine marker levels at baseline in participants who recovered from depression as a result of the therapy. Seems the blood levels of these markers did not show this pattern in the participants who didn’t improve with the therapy.

The blood test also identifies vulnerability to depression. See, the blood concentration of three of the nine RNA markers remained different in depressed participants and non-depressed controls, even if the depressed participants achieved remission from depression after therapy.

‘Nuff Said, for Now

More to come from Redei and the research gang. The plan is to test their results in a larger population. And how ’bout this? They want to determine if the test can differentiate between major (unipolar) depression and bipolar depression.

Having a depression test – much less an objective blood test – is a huge development for so many reasons. Just think, if you’ve been pondering “Am I Depressed?,” you won’t be stuck in a guessing-game for years on end. Simply, it’ll be it’s major depressive disorder or let’s move-on to something else. And imagine knowing up-front whether or not CBT is a viable treatment option. Pretty sweet.

And you know what? I’d be willing to bet similar research is cookin’ for anxiety, as well as other psych woes.

This is such a good thing, don’t you think? Please – lay-out your thoughts in a comment…

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  • Nancy Frye Peden

    Bill, this is great news. I wonder if I should have a blood test for this? Will run it by both my psych and my naturopath.

    And I think the naturopaths are maybe a bit ahead in this area. Here is a list of supplements all based on RNA by one of the webs most controversial biochemists who started out working with her autistic child. Here is the list. They are very expensive but I hear they last several months. http://www.holisticheal.com/complete-list-of-rna-formulas.html

    One would have to have had their genes tested to get to this I think. I wonder if the new RNA tests point to a gene? I think you said they do.

    I LOVE personalized medicine. My psych almost fell out of his chair when my naturopath starting treating my depression based on my mutated MAO gene with passion flower and it works!

    • Thanks for your visit and contribution, Nancy. You’re always so helpful – info, links, etc. I’m thinking the test isn’t available, as yet – as it’s still in testing. However, once it is I think it would be telling to have it done. Heck, I might even do it…

      Bill

  • Beth Wilson

    Hey Bill! I think anytime science weighs in on a mental health or substance use disorder track, we–the collective we–benefit. Now, if while the test for depression is being refined, we–again, the collective we–can figure out how to put the stigma attached to depression out to pasture, the business of treating depression will be easier. I vote for transparency when it comes to a public health approach to treatment depression.

    This will be interesting to watch . . . and learn . . .

    • Sure will be interesting to watch – and learn, Beth. And your points are right on the mark. I’m glad you mentioned “refined,” because this particular test is still in development phase. But it sure looks good, doesn’t it!? And, you know, I find it very comforting to know this sort of research is going-on – behind the scenes. Long overdue! And the same applies to your side of the blogging fence – substance use issues.

      Always happy to have you here, Beth. Thank you…

      Bill

  • OH MY GOSH – this is SO EXCITING!!! Woo hoo – thanks for letting us know, Bill, for as you described, the old way of diagnosing, “… let’s open that DSM and roll the bones,” hasn’t been all that effective. This is going to make a huge difference!! Thanks for keeping us abreast of all that’s new!

    • Hey, you’re welcome, Lisa. And thanks for stopping-by and participating. As I said to Beth, I’m hoping the spirit of active and productive research is happening with the subject matter of your blogging world – the substance use issues…

      Bill

  • What a great milestone to have a depression test! It will make such a difference for those with suffering to have their suspicions confirmed and then treated. We then do need to go that extra step of removing the stigma, but this is a big step forward. Thanks!

    • Hey, Cathy – glad you stopped-by. Thanks for doing so and commenting. It is a “great milestone,” with more to come in many arenas, I know. Hoping the same is going-on in your area of specialty – substance use issues. And then on to that stigma removal biz. Yes!!!

      Bill

  • Patricia Miller

    This is such a positive step because once any of the more stigmatized issues move into the realm of science with medical documentation it becomes far less possible to discriminate. It becomes more likely that we all will view the illness as we do asthma or diabetes. Thank you for the great hope infusion and eye to the future. Even if this never touches my life directly, it will touch people I care about and that lightens my heart. Great news and so many thanks to you Bill.

    • Your point is right on the mark, Patricia. Would (should) have a huge impact on stigma, as it validates a diagnosis. A shame it has to come to that in our neck of the woods, but it is what it is.

      And this is all so hopeful for so many reasons beyond just the test. Tells me there’s action, and that’s just huge.

      Always appreciate your visits and participation, Patricia…

      Bill

      • Keith

        Might make it easier on individuals trying to get on disability .

      • Darned good point, Keith. If it becomes a “recognized and acknowledged” test, sure adds a lot of credibility to a claim, huh?! Tons of ramifications to come from developments such as this.

        Appreciate your visit and participation. Please come-on-back…

        Bill