Diagnosing Depression By Blood

Gotta love van Gogh.

Depression is a difficult condition to fight. For one thing, there’s no physical manifestation like a lesion or rash that gives a chemical imbalance in the brain away to a physician. The only way to diagnose it is through a patient voluntarily describing all of his or her conditions in an accurate manner, hopefully to a trained specialist who is able to recognize the problem.

First of all, a lot of people don’t really like opening up and talking about their feelings, especially to a stranger. Plus, social stigmas may make them apprehensive about telling the whole truth about what’s going on in their noggin. And when a lot of people see their depression and think, geeze, I just have to be happier – let’s just say a lot of depression goes undiagnosed.

The problem here, then, is an easy way to spot the problem. And once again, those problem-solving scientists of Northwestern University are making headway.

Gotta love having a smart school in your conference. Good decision, Big Ten.

Eva Redei, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences is trying to create a blood test to recognize depression, and she may have just taken the first step. Depression isn’t all just about being sad or having whacky emotions. There can be real, physical changes that occur in the body that trigger the symptoms. Naturally, Redei thought, “Why not try to figure out a way to spot these changes?”

For the test, Redei turned to genetics. Since depression can be somewhat hereditary, and the causes and symptoms can affect the way your body works at the most basic level, there may well be genetic signatures to how specific genes are acting that could give away the disease to a simple blood test.

To find out, Redei took a line of rats that have been bred to show classical signs of depression. For example, they give up really quickly and easily when swimming for their lives in a tub of water with no way out. She took blood samples and compared the genetic activity between them and normal rats to find 26 biomarkers that could be useful in differentiating blood from a depressed person and one feeling fine and dandy.

Next, Redei took blood samples from 14 adolescents with major depression who had not been clinically treated as well as samples from 14 normal teenagers. After running the samples through the genetic tests for the biomarkers, she discovered that she could indeed spot the depressed individuals using 11 of the biomarkers together.

Of course, this is just a pilot study and much more work needs to be done to develop an actual blood test for depression. Much larger studies must be done to see if these 11 markers hold up over a large population. Similar trials must be done with people exhibiting other types of mental disorders to see if the same markers still work. After all, you wouldn’t want to accidentally diagnose a schizophrenic as a depressive.

But it’s still a pretty cool idea and a successful first step.


About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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