New Blood Test Diagnoses Depression Among Teens
April 18, 2012

New Blood Test Diagnoses Depression Among Teens

Connie K. Ho for

A Northwestern University Medicine scientist recently reported that she has developed an objective way of diagnosing depression in teens through a blood test.

Previously, depression was analyzed through subjective factors; a patient would recount symptoms and a physician would work to interpret those symptoms. This new blood test is able to identify subtypes of depression, distinguishing between those who have major depression and those who have depression combined with anxiety. The revolutionary development allows for tailored treatment of individuals and medical professionals can assist teens who are especially vulnerable to depression as a result of tumultuous mood changes.

"Right now depression is treated with a blunt instrument," explained Eva Redei, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and lead investigator of the study, in Translational Psychiatry. "It's like treating type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes exactly the same way. We need to do better for these kids."

The study included 14 adolescents who had major depression and not yet treated as well as 14 non-depressed adolescents. The subjects ranged from ages 15 to 19 and had their blood tested at Redei´s Lab. Redei tested for 26 genetic blood markers and found that 11 of the markers were able to differentiate between the depressed and non-depressed patients. As well, 18 of the 26 markers were able to tell which patients had major depression and which had depression combined with anxiety.

If not diagnosed early on, depression can affect a person´s well being. Teens that fall into depression have a higher change of using drugs, having feelings of suicide, among other serious symptoms. As well, these difficult emotions can continue with them to adulthood.

"This is the first significant step for us to understand which treatment will be most effective for an individual patient," elaborated Redei, who also serves as the David Lawrence Stein Professor of Psychiatric Diseases Affecting Children and Adolescents. "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."