Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=220470
Story Retrieval Date: 7/24/2014 10:38:47 PM CST

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The future of diagnosing depression could be in a person's blood.

 


Are you depressed? Your blood may reveal the answer

by Matthew Ross Gelfand
Apr 24, 2013


A Northwestern University researcher is identifying blood markers that can confirm depression symptoms in adults, extending last year's research that identified the markers for teens.

Dr. Eva Redei, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, is continuing research that found specific genetic markers in the blood of depressed teenagers. The blood exhibited different markers for depressed teens compared to those not previously diagnosed with the condition. 

In prior research, Redei looked at genes of rats bred specifically to be depressed. She placed them in various stress-inducing environments and examined gene-expression changes that occurred. To determine if a similar model of genetic expression in humans, she tested 28 patients - 14 depressed and 14 without symptoms of depression - and identified 11 new markers associated with early-onset depression.

Redei describes the results of her new adult study “very interesting,” but could not comment on the details since the research is still unpublished. However, she said that she has found differences in blood markers between teens and adults.

“Similar to cancer, depression is not a single disease, it has multiple variations, and there are different biological mannerisms that cause it,” Redei explained. “So there will be differences in diagnostic patterns as well.”

Ultimately, Redei believes her findings could result in more precise medication recommendations, potentially customized to the relationship between the chemicals in antidepressants and a person's blood markers.

Current depression medications often are not very effective, "but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be used,” Redei said. “We need to know who will respond to what kind of medications or why somebody doesn’t respond to a medication and that may help us to find better one. “

One of the biggest downsides of current medications is the length of time it takes to see results, which can take up to six weeks. And since not every anti-depressant works the same for every person, they may need to endure an extensive trial-and-error period before they get it right, if they ever do at all.

“Some of these people are employed and their lives are going by as they test out anti-depressants,” says Nancy Harju, board member of the National Alliance on Mental Health’s Barrington branch. “They’re losing jobs or friends at school. Not finding the right medication immediately can result in all kinds of consequences.”

Malinowski agreed, suggesting that people could lose “four months, seven months, or maybe even a year of their lives” searching for the right medication and dosage.

This is where Redei’s findings come into play.

Redei originally focused her study on teenagers because she said she believes teen years are when people are typically the most vulnerable. The stigma of being depressed in junior high or high school is much more pronounced, which inhibits their ability to communicate how they truly feel.

“Teachers usually notice students that are overly hyper, not the ones who are withdrawn,” Redei said. “If a depressed teen goes to a doctor, he or she may not feel comfortable discussing the issue. Many times, the child’s parent may not even know.”

Even though the study is still unfinished, the initial results are already having an impact.

One of the biggest downsides to current depression medications is the length of time it takes to see results, which, according to drug information website Drugs.com, can take up to six weeks. And since not every anti-depressant works the same for every person, people may need to endure an extensive trial-and-error period before they get it right.

“Some of these people are employed and their lives are going by as they test out anti-depressants,” says Nancy Harju, board member of the National Alliance on Mental Health’s Barrington branch. “They’re losing jobs or friends at school. Not finding the right medication immediately can result in all kinds of consequences.”

Malinowski agreed, suggesting that people could lose “four months, seven months, or maybe even a year of their lives” searching for the right medication and dosage.

This is where Redei’s findings come into play.

“This is an enormous breakthrough,” said Arlene Malinowski, a Chicago-based artist, writer and instructor who also suffers from depression. “The results of these studies could legitimize depression and other forms of mental illness. There’s so much stigma and shame related to it, and if we can have some sort of physical marker, it could go a long way toward pushing the mental illness agenda forward.”

“My ultimate goal is to come up with different tests that can help in personalized medicine and better depression medications,” she concludes.

Redei plans for her new findings to be released at some point in 2013.