A new blood test has been developed that is capable of determining the severity of a person's depression, as well as diagnose their future risk of severe illness or bipolar disorder.
The test, created by researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine in the US,
could open the door to better treatments for people with depressive mental health issues, and may even help to stop a person developing further issues in future.
The test is the result of a 4-year study that looked at changes in the blood of people when in high mood states compared with low mood states.
Specifically, the research looked for RNA biomarkers – small pieces of genetic information that can be extracted from blood samples – that are highly sensitive to changes in a person's mood.
These biomarkers were recorded and compared to existing genetic databases to pinpoint 26 RNA sequences that could indicate the severity of a person's depression or mania (a mental state of excitement or overactivity seen in people with bipolar disorder).
“Blood biomarkers are emerging as important tools in disorders where subjective self-report by an individual, or a clinical impression of a health care professional, are not always reliable,” said research lead Alexander Niculescu, Professor of Psychiatry at IU School of Medicine.
Comparatively, blood tests could provide the accuracy needed in diagnosing mental health issues, said Niculescu, allowing for precise, personalised treatment and monitoring.
Blood-based biomarkers are frequently used in the diagnosis of a variety of diseases, including cancer, diabetes, anaemia, heart disease and HIV.
Yet, despite depression being the leading cause of disability for people aged 15-44 years, there are currently no objective measures of the condition, such as blood tests, used in clinical practices.
As a result, mood disorders are often under-diagnosed or misdiagnosed, say the study authors.
“They are also sub-optimally treated, can lead to self-medication with alcohol and drugs, and may culminate in some cases with suicide.”
The development of an objective blood test for mental health issues could be ground-breaking, helping those suffering to receive the most effective treatment in the shortest time period, rather than relying on trial and error.
"Blood biomarkers offer real-world clinical practice advantages. As the brain cannot be readily biopsied in live individuals, and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is less easily accessible than blood, we have endeavoured over the years to identify blood biomarkers for neuropsychiatric disorders," say the authors.
Previously, the same team of researchers have presented data on blood biomarkers that track suicidal thoughts, as well as pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and Alzheimer's disease.
The team now aim to create further blood tests for bipolar disorder to help distinguish it from depression and help people receive the correct treatment.
To read the full research paper, click here.
Written by Alice Lynes
News reporter for Talking Mental Health
Twitter & Instagram: @alicelynes