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Blood test to diagnose depression in teens

Blood test to diagnose depression in teens

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The new test offers an objective way to identify early-onset major depression, which has been hard to diagnose because of normal mood swings coming from healthy hormonal changes.

Researchers have developed the first blood test that can identify teen depression, which has been hard to do because of healthy hormonal changes happening around that age.

Differentiating between normal mood swings and early-onset major depression is particularly crucial, since untreated depression makes youths more vulnerable to social maladjustment and later substance abuse.

The new blood test would replace the current method of diagnosing depression, which is asking teenagers to recall their symptoms and talk about their moods – and relying on a physician’s subjective observation.

"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," says study researcher Eva Redei at Northwestern University. "Once you can objectively diagnose depression as you would hypertension or diabetes, the stigma will likely disappear."

  1. First, to figure out which genes are involved in the condition, the researchers compared gene expression in depressed rats with that in normal rats. They identified a set of 26 potential biological markers.
  2. Then they analyzed these 26 biomarkers in blood samples from 28 teenagers, ages 15 through 19 from Midwestern cities. Half of them have untreated major depression.
  3. They found abnormal levels of expression for 11 of the biomarkers in teens with the condition.
  4. They also found changes in the levels of 18 other markers in teenagers that had been diagnosed with both depression and anxiety.

"Once you can measure it, then everybody believes it's real,” Redei says: “No one could say, ‘Just get yourself together,’” she adds.

The new test might be able to distinguish between certain types of depression for more personalized treatments.

The work was published in Translational Psychiatry yesterday.

[Via New Scientist, US News and World Report, TIME]

Image by Fernando Ariotti via Flickr

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Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure