A blood test may help diagnose depression, according to a team of researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital.
In a new study, the researchers report that a blood test analyzing the levels of nine biomarkers accurately identifies patients diagnosed with depression from control participants.
“Traditionally, diagnosis of major depression and other mental disorders has been made based on patients’ reported symptoms, but the accuracy of that process varies a great deal, often depending on the experience and resources of the clinician conducting the assessment,” said psychiatrist Dr. George Papakostas, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and lead author of the report.
“Adding an objective biological test could improve diagnostic accuracy and may also help us track individual patients’ response to treatment.”
“It can be difficult to convince patients of the need for treatment based on the sort of questionnaire now used to rank their reported symptoms,” said John Bilello, Ph.D., co-author of the study and chief scientific officer of Ridge Diagnostics, which sponsored it.
“We expect that the biological basis of this test may provide patients with insight into their depression as a treatable disease rather than a source of self-doubt and stigma.”
The test developed by Ridge Diagnostics measures the levels of nine biomarkers associated with factors such as inflammation, the development and maintenance of neurons, and the interaction between brain structures involved with stress response and other key functions, the researchers explain.
Those measurements are combined using a formula to produce a figure called the MDDScore — a number from 1 to 100 indicating the likelihood that the person has major depressive disorder.
The initial phase of the study included 36 adults who had been diagnosed with major depression at Massachusetts General Hospital, Vanderbilt University or Cambridge Health Alliance, along with 43 control participants from St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.
MDDScores for 33 of the 36 patients indicated the presence of depression, while only eight of the 43 controls had a positive test result. The average score for the patients was 85, while the average for controls was 33.
A second phase of the study included an additional 34 patients from MGH and Vanderbilt, 31 of whom had a positive MDDScore result.
Combining both groups indicated that the test could accurately diagnose major depression with a sensitivity of about 90 percent and a specificity of 80 percent, according to the researchers. These statistics are lower than existing diagnostic, non-invasive, paper-based tests that are used today to diagnose depression.
Determining the true utility of the test will require larger trials in clinical settings, Papakostas said, adding, “these results are already providing us with intriguing new hints on how powerfully factors such as inflammation — which we are learning has a major role in many serious medical issues — contribute to depression.”
Source: Massachusetts General Hospital