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New research shows blood tests could be effective in diagnosing depression

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April 30, 2014

Research suggests a blood test to detect depression is possible (Photo: Shutterstock)

Research suggests a blood test to detect depression is possible (Photo: Shutterstock)

At present, reaching a diagnosis for depression typically involves interviews with the patient, resulting in a drawn out and costly process. Some recent research efforts have sought to address this, such as a diagnostic technique that measures electrical activity in the brain to more quickly detect mental illness. Now a team of Austrian researchers has demonstrated a link between levels of serotonin in the blood and the depression network in the brain, meaning that diagnosing depression could soon become a much more efficient undertaking.

Working at the Department of Biological Psychiatry at the Medical University of Vienna, a team led by Associate Professor Lukas Pezawas examined the relationship between the speed of serotonin uptake in blood platelets and the neural depression network in the brain.

The study focused on the serotonin transporter (SERT), a protein in the membrane that enables serotonin to be transported into the cell. In the brain, this regulates the depression network and is key in fending off depressive conditions.

Recent studies have demonstrated that not only is this serotonin transporter also present in the blood, it works in the same way that it does in the brain, ensuring that the concentration of serotonin in the blood plasma is kept at healthy levels. In observing this process alongside functional magnetic resonance imaging of the brain, the team concluded that there is in fact a close relationship between the rate of serotonin uptake in the blood and the function of the neural depression network.

"This is the first study that has been able to predict the activity of a major depression network in the brain using a blood test," says Pezawas. "While blood tests for mental illnesses have until recently been regarded as impossible, this study clearly shows that a blood test is possible in principle for diagnosing depression and could become reality in the not too distant future."

The team's research was published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Source: Medical University of Vienna

About the Author
Nick Lavars Nick was born outside of Melbourne, Australia, with a general curiosity that has drawn him to some distant (and very cold) places. Somewhere between enduring a winter in the Canadian Rockies and trekking through Chilean Patagonia, he graduated from university and pursued a career in journalism. He now writes for Gizmag, excited by tech and all forms of innovation, Melbourne's bizarre weather and curried egg sandwiches.   All articles by Nick Lavars
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4 Comments

I'm not sure if this is a good thing. On the one hand it is a great diagnostic tool. On the other hand it could be easily abused. For example causing someone who suffers depression to suddenly become unemployable. There is a great stigma attached to depression, especially among employers. Unless the public can suddenly be cured of their misconceptions it would be essential that equality laws be put in place prior to releasing the test into the wild. Without them it would have the same affect that being diagnosed with AIDS had on people in the 80's.

VirtualGathis
30th April, 2014 @ 06:44 am PDT

I have been reading a lot of articles about autoimmune diseases and their effect on depression and anxiety. Often the depression or anxiety is the FIRST symptom of an autoimmune disease. These symptoms can advance to any one or more diseases such as celiac disease, diabetes mellitus type 1, sarcoidosis, lupus erythematosus , Sjögren's syndrome, Churg-Strauss syndrome, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, Graves' disease, idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, Addison's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, MS, polymyositis , and dermatomyositis plus many others . Anyone suffering from anxiety or depression should also be checked for autoimmune antibodies in the blood. This is often far more complicated than just an imbalance of serotonin.

Bob
30th April, 2014 @ 11:24 am PDT

This is sort of awesome. I think employers would have a difficult time justifying a need to access to this data but I think its cool that depression could actually be measurable to some degree.

The research of testing for it probably has parallels in usefulness to learn more about treating it as well.

I wonder how many people who suffer from depression turn to substance abuse for temporary dopamine boosts for instance. The body is a complex system of chemical reactions we still have a lot of learn about but when it comes to dealing with things like depression and substance abuse we have a long way to go.

From people going on rampages and committing suicide being linked to taking anti depressants I think we have a lot to learn about the side effects of how we are medicating people today as well.

Daishi
30th April, 2014 @ 12:08 pm PDT

I worry about life sucks here is a pill every time I take my daily dose of antidepressant.

Slowburn
2nd May, 2014 @ 07:09 pm PDT
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