Northwestern Medicine develops blood test for depression

Christine Farolan, Copy Chief

Scientists at Northwestern Medicine are developing the first blood test to diagnose depression in adults.

The test measures the levels of nine biological markers in a patient to identify how well he or she responds to treatment. These markers are found in the RNA, which interprets DNA’s genetic code. The behavior of the markers allow the test to predict what kind of treatment will benefit an individual the most.

The study, published Sept. 16 in Translational Psychiatry, is the “first measurable, blood-based evidence of therapy’s success,” according to a University news release.

“This test brings mental health diagnosis into the 21st century and offers the first personalized medicine approach to people suffering from depression,” said Dr. Eva Redei, Feinberg professor and co-lead author of the study, in a news release.

Redei also worked on a blood test to diagnose depression in teens in 2012.

“We already reported on the test results for 15-19 year olds who had their first depressive episode,” Redei said in an email to The Daily. “We hope that these tests and others that follow will be implemented in the near future.”

The study for adult diagnosis involved 32 patients ages 21 to 79 who have depression. Their nine RNA markers were compared to those of a control group who did not have depression and found to be significantly different.

After undergoing therapy for 18 weeks, the patients participated in clinical interviews and self-reporting to determine whom remained depressed. At this point, the blood test proved the effectiveness of therapy on certain patients with biological evidence.

John Dunkle, executive director of NU’s Counseling and Psychological Services, explained that the blood test diagnosis method, like a new drug, would need to undergo extensive testing before it could be approved for use with college students.

“With any type of new procedure or intervention, CAPS would look at the research and whether or not it’s recommended from professional organizations under what are referred to as treatment guidelines,” Dunkle said.

Because the blood tests for both adults and adolescents are still in the research and development phase, they will not be incorporated into clinical care until after regulatory approval, Redei said.

“But if it does reach there, of course we would definitely look at it and see how and if we can implement it for our students,” Dunkle said.

CAPS currently uses a combination of clinical interviews and forms filled out by patients to diagnose depression in students.

“I do hope that the tests will be used in college campuses in the future,” Redei said in an email.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @crfarolan