In what could prove to be a incredible find, researchers from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine have devised a simple blood test that can diagnose major depression in teenagers. Lead investigator Eva Redei, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the university said,
“’Right now depression is treated with a blunt instrument. It’s like treating type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes exactly the same way. We need to do better for these kids. This is the first significant step for us to understand which treatment will be most effective for an individual patient.”
As she explained, ”Without an objective diagnosis, it’s very difficult to make that assessment. The early diagnosis and specific classification of early major depression could lead to a larger repertoire of more effective treatments and enhanced individualized care.”
The new test not only identifies depression, but it can also identity subtypes of depression. It shows differences between teens with major depression and those who have major depression with an anxiety disorder.
Untreated teen depression can have debilitating consequences. Untreated teens experiencing depression can turn to substance abuse, social maladjustment, suicide and illness.
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The study published in the journal Translational Psychiatry looked at 14 teenagers who had major depression but had not been treated and at 14 non-depressed teens. They were all patients of Doctor Kathleen Pajer, a co-first author of the study and those of her colleagues at the Research Institute of Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
When looking at 26 genetic blood markers, Prof. Redei’s lab testing was able to isolate 11 markers that were different for depressed and non-depressed teens. In addition, 18 of the 26 markers were able to differentiate between those with major depression and those who also had an anxiety disorder.
Professor Redei is hoping that her work, and future diagnostic tools, will help to take away the stigma of mental illness. As she said,
“Everybody, including parents, are wary of treatment, and there remains a social stigma around depression, which in the peer-pressured world of teenagers is even more devastating. Once you can objectively diagnose depression as you would hypertension or diabetes, the stigma will likely disappear.”