Northwestern University scientists have developed the first blood test to diagnose major depression in adults. It is considered a breakthrough approach that provides the first objective, scientific diagnosis for depression. The test identifies depression by measuring the levels of RNA blood markers. RNA molecules are the messengers that interpret the DNA genetic code and carry out its instructions.

The blood test can also predict who will benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy based on the behavior of some of the markers. This can open the door for more effective, individualized therapy for people with depression.

Additionally, the test can show the biological effects of cognitive behavioral therapy, the first measurable, blood-based evidence of the therapy’s success. The levels of markers changed in patients who had the therapy for 18 weeks and were no longer depressed.

“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,” said Eva Redei, who developed the test and is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “This test brings mental health diagnosis into the 21st century and offers the first personalized medicine approach to people suffering from depression.”

Co-lead author David Mohr, a professor of preventive medicine and director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technology at Feinberg said, “Currently we know drug therapy is effective but not for everybody and psychotherapy is effective but not for everybody. We know combined therapies are more effective than either alone but maybe by combining therapies we are using a scattershot approach. Having a blood test would allow us to better target treatment to individuals.”

“Being aware of people who are more susceptible to recurring depression allows us to monitor them more closely,” noted Mohr. “They can consider a maintenance dose of antidepressants or continued psychotherapy to diminish the severity of a future episode or prolong the intervals between episodes.”

It is also hoped that the test will be able to differentiate between major depression and bipolar depression.   9/17/2014


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