Getting to the Root of Depression
Since psychiatric disorders, such as mental illness or depression, tend to be hard to see or quantify, one would think that the biological clues, or biomarkers, for them would be next to impossible to find. In recent years though, research has pushed further and further toward locating biomarkers in patients who struggle with depression. The quicker a biomarker is located, the quicker a patient can be properly diagnosed, and can begin to seek out cheaper, potentially less-invasive methods of testing or treatment.
In 2013, the National Institute of Mental Health funded a study that used a position emission tomography scanner to figure out what regions of the brain are active and when in patients who suffer from depression. The thinking behind it is that different patients respond to different types of treatment, and if physicians knew a patient's biomarkers in advance, they could easily plug that patient into the proper treatment method for their individual needs.
Currently, depression is most often diagnosed based on symptoms patients themselves discuss or exhibit, but Eva Redei, PhD, of the Feinburg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Illinois, hopes to change that with a blood test she and her team think could determine quickly and objectively whether a person is depressed. They have discovered a whopping 26 biomarkers that might help doctors diagnose depression and anxiety in teens.
Another study out of Cambridge University sought to identify risk of depression in teenage boys and found that the stress hormone cortisol was predictive. The study concluded that boys with symptoms of depression and elevated cortisol levels were up to 14 times more likely to become depressive than those with low levels and no symptoms. Cynthia Joyce, chief executive of the charity MQ: Transforming Health, wrote in a blog that the proof-of-concept nature of this study was a step in the right direction.
Though scientists and researchers are still learning about biomarkers and their relevance to patients, there is no denying the research's importance. There is a need for more effective treatment of depression, and biomarkers can help that become a reality.