Could a Blood Test Help Spot Depression?02/03/12
FRIDAY, Feb. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Depression can be a tough
condition to diagnose accurately, but new research suggests that
someday a blood test might help.
It's not clear how much the test might cost, and it needs more
stringent validation before it will be ready to be used in medical
offices. Still, "it appears that these results are promising, after
decades of research into finding a biological test for depression,"
said study author Dr. George Papakostas, an associate professor of
psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
The study was funded by the Ridge Diagnostics Co. and appeared
in a recent issue of the journal
It may seem like depression is an easy condition to diagnose and
doesn't need a test to verify that it exists, but Papakostas said
there are several ways that a blood-based depression test might be
For one, he said, a test could help doctors who aren't as
experienced in psychiatric disorders. Also, he said, a test may
provide assistance to doctors who aren't sure about the proper
diagnosis of a patient: "This could be of help to them, in terms of
guiding them in one way or another," he said.
Yet another use for a test would be to verify that a patient has
depression, and therefore help him or her accept the diagnosis.
"The majority of patients diagnosed with depression have no problem
accepting the need for treatment," Papakostas said. However, "there
is a minority of patients who feel that validation of an underlying
process is helpful," he added.
In their study, Papakostas and his team gave a blood test to 36
patients with depression and 43 people who weren't depressed. The
test looked for levels of nine different "biomarkers" in the blood
that are associated with depression. These biomarkers are linked to
inflammatory processes, the development and maintenance of brain
cells, and interactions between brain structures associated with
the stress response and other functions.
The researchers found that the test correctly identified
patients with depression 91 percent of the time; the rest of the
time it gave a false-negative diagnosis (it failed to spot the
depression). The test correctly identified patients who weren't
depressed about 81 percent of the time, giving false-positives the
rest of the time.
The next step is to try to confirm these findings through
further research, Papakostas said.
He didn't know how much the test might eventually cost, but he
said it won't be as high as thousands of dollars and should be more
akin to routine blood tests.
The test appears to detect inflammation in the brain, which has
been linked to depression, Papakostas said. "That really doesn't
surprise researchers. Chronic inflammation has been tied to a
number of other illnesses in the kidneys, lungs and heart," he
One outside expert said such a test would be welcome.
Dr. Michelle Riba, a professor of psychiatry at the University
of Michigan who's familiar with the findings, said a blood test for
depression could be helpful in several ways.
For one, it would be useful to identify people, especially
children and adolescents, who are prone to depression and try to
prevent it, she said.
Also, she said, a test could help give physicians insight into
how depression treatments are working over time.
For more on depression, had to the
U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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