Will There Soon Be a Blood Test to Diagnose Depression?
For years, doctors have used simple blood tests to rule out reasons why a patient might be struggling with depression or bi-polar disorder. Tests like these could point to problems with the thyroid, with a vitamin D deficiency, or with anemia, for example. However, there has never been a reliable way of diagnosing depression simply by examining a patient’s bloodwork.
New Developments in Mental Health Diagnoses
But the science of mental health is changing every day, and in Australia, researchers may have found a way to do this very thing. To understand how, it helps to have a bit of background on how the brain functions in a patient who struggles with this type of mental health disorder.
Low levels of a protein called mBDNF seem to be present in patients who battle depression. Basically, mBDNF is good. It helps with memory, learning, and keeping your brain ‘elastic.’ A second protein, proBDNF, is not so good. It’s associated with nerve degeneration and inflammation. Too much proBDNF, combined with too little mBDNF, can wreak havoc on a patient’s mental wellness.
Traditionally, blood tests could detect these proteins, but they couldn’t differentiate between them. As a result, it was impossible for doctors to determine how much of each protein was present.
However, with a bit of tweaking by scientists at the University of Australia at Adelaide, in collaboration with the Kunming Medical University in China, there’s a blood test that can now distinguish between the two.
What This Means for Patients With Depression
This is good news, especially for patients whose depression does not respond to traditional treatment methods. If doctors are able to measure the specific amount of mBDNF present in a patient and use it as a biomarker, this could make it much easier to both diagnose depression and to follow the success of a specific form of treatment. It could also expedite treatment because doctors could examine a patient’s bloodwork and understand immediately that levels of brain proteins were not where they should be.