Blood test to diagnose depression

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Depression can be diagnosed with the help of biomarkers

Depression affects not only adults, but also children, where the mental illness is often difficult to distinguish from general mood swings. US researchers have therefore identified various biomarkers that can be detected in a blood test and are intended to provide clear indications of depression.

A blood test can be used to reliably diagnose depression in children and adolescents, write first author Kathleen Pajer from Northwestern University in Chicago and her colleagues in the current issue of the specialist magazine "Translational Psychiatry". The US researchers have defined a number of biomarkers that can be detected in the blood and can provide information about a possible existing depression.

Blood test to diagnose depression According to the US researchers, the blood test could soon replace the complex diagnosis of depression in children and adolescents. The severe mental illness also affects people under the age of 25, but it is particularly difficult for them to diagnose, write Pajer and colleagues. In total, about one percent of the population is affected under the age of 12, the US researchers continue. For adolescents, the mental illness often results in serious impairments to their development and entails an increased risk of physical illnesses, the scientists explain. Those affected also tend to use drugs, have difficulties with social adjustment and are at increased risk of suicide, Pajer and colleagues report.

Biomarkers enable objective diagnosis of depression So far, the diagnosis of depression in both adults and adolescents has been based on patient self-control and clinical observation, which, however, according to the US researchers, offers only relatively unreliable (subjective) diagnosis options. Biological markers could offer objective help in diagnosis, but "despite 30 years of research" no clear biomarkers have been identified to date, as the US scientists write in their article. Kathleen Pajer and colleagues therefore devoted themselves to the search for reliable biological indicators that can be used to diagnose depression. In doing so, they focused their research on indicators that indicate genetic disposition and stress as the most common causes of depression.

Anxiety disorders can also be identified using biomarkers Using animal experiments and a first study with 14 depression patients and 14 healthy volunteers, the US researchers identified eleven blood markers that can indicate childhood depression. Based on the blood markers, a reliable diagnosis can be made, which also enables a clear distinction in the direction of general mood fluctuations - as often occurs in adolescents - write the US scientists. In addition, 18 other biomarkers have been detected that allow a distinction to be made between pure depression and depression with accompanying anxiety disorder, Pajer and colleagues continue. According to the researchers, five of the eleven defined biomarkers come from the inheritable area and six are associated with chronic stress. The obtained "pilot data indicate that our approach of clinically valid diagnostic panels of blood markers" significantly improves the diagnostic options for early depression and has the potential to "advance individualized therapy strategies", write the US scientists. For the first time, it was possible to use the biomarkers to objectively prove the mental illness.

Further studies on the biomarkers for depression required According to study leader Eva Redei from Northwestern University, the "eleven genes discovered may be just the tip of the iceberg" and numerous other biomarkers could be identified that could be used to diagnose depression. In any case, the current study provides evidence that "it is actually possible to diagnose depression via the blood," emphasized the study leader. The limitations of the "current study are the relatively small sample size and the limited number" of organic brands, so the authors' restriction. Overall, however, according to their own assessment, the US researchers have shown “a novel approach to identifying potential biomarkers” for depression in children and adolescents. In further studies, the biomarkers must now be tested on “a large sample of adolescents with depression” in order to confirm their significance, explains Kathleen Pajer. The researchers were confident that the biomarkers would enable objective detection of depression in the future. (fp)

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