Technology to Aid Diagnosis of Depression, BipolarDespite significant advances in care for mental health disorders, a troubling factor is the amount of time it sometimes takes to establish a diagnosis.

Remarkably, some experts say it often takes six to 10 years to properly diagnose a mental health condition.

However, new research seeks to speed the process and end misdiagnosis by looking for a “biomarker” in the brain that will help diagnose and treat two commonly misdiagnosed disorders.

Dr. Elizabeth Osuch, a researcher at Lawson Health Research Institute and a psychiatrist at London Health Sciences Centre, is working to identify brain markers (biomarkers) for major depressive disorder (MDD), otherwise known as unipolar disorder, and bipolar disorder (BD).

Currently, diagnosis is made by patient observation and verbal history. Mistakes are not uncommon, and patients can find themselves going from doctor to doctor receiving improper diagnoses and prescribed medications to little effect.

Osuch examined youth who were diagnosed with either MDD or BD (15 patients in each group) and imaged their brains with an MRI to see if there was a region of the brain that corresponded with the bipolarity index (BI).

The BI is a diagnostic tool that encompasses varying degrees of bipolar disorder, identifying symptoms and behavior in order to place a patient on the spectrum.

What she found was the activation of the brain region called the putamen correlated positively with BD.

This is the region of the brain that controls motor skills, and has a strong link to reinforcement and reward and explains symptoms of bipolar disorder. “The identification of the putamen in our positive correlation may indicate a potential trait marker for the symptoms of mania in bipolar disorder,” said Osuch.

In order to reach this conclusion, the study approached mental health research from a different angle.

“The unique aspect of this research is that, instead of dividing the patients by psychiatric diagnoses of bipolar disorder and unipolar depression, we correlated their functional brain images with a measure of bipolarity which spans across a spectrum of diagnoses.” Osuch said.

“This approach can help to uncover a biomarker for bipolarity, independent of the current mood symptoms or mood state of the patient.”

In the future, Osuch said she will repeat the study with more patients, seeking to prove that the activation of the putamen is the start of a trend in large numbers of patients.

The hope is that one day there could be a definitive biological marker which could help differentiate the two disorders, leading to a faster diagnosis and optimal care.

Source: Lawson Health Research Institute

Abstract of the brain photo by shutterstock.