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Northwestern Study Develops Blood Test to Diagnose Depressed Teens

The Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago has developed the first blood test to diagnose major depression in teens, giving researchers hope for improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of the potentially devastating mental illness.  According to a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and lead investigator of the study Eva Redei, PhD, the study hopes to open the door for more research on the important topic of treating mental illness in teens, “Right now depression is treated with a blunt instrument, It’s like treating type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes exactly the same way. We need to do better for these kids.”

In the study, 14 teens between 15-19 years old who had been diagnosed with major depression and 14 teens who had not.  Through blood analysis, researchers were able to identify 11 genes that were able to differentiate between the depressed group and the non-depressed group.   Brain Andrus, second co-author of the study, “These 11 genes are probably the tip of the iceberg because depression is a complex illness,” Redei said. “But it’s an entree into a much bigger phenomenon that has to be explored. It clearly indicates we can diagnose from blood and create a blood diagnosis test for depression.”

Northwestern’s findings are a positive step in finding more effective treatment for depression in teens, a group that is typically harder to diagnose due to normal mood changes and what is viewed as “typical” teen behavior.  In an interesting twist, the study authors reported that none of the teens who had been diagnosed with depression for the study had opted for treatment, and none of the parents involved had encouraged it.  Speaking to the social view of depression in today’s society, Redei said, “Everybody, including parents, are wary of treatment, and there remains a social stigma around depression, which in the peer-pressured world of teenagers is even more devastating.”  Redei and her research team hope that by removing the stigma that is still associated with depression, teens can be properly diagnosed and treated, as depression left untreated in teens can lead to serious problems on into adulthood.