Depression: A New Blood Test May Help Doctors Pick The Best Treatment

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Depression UK scientists have developed a new blood test, which will help doctors pick the best drug for patients with depression.

The researchers from King’s College London said that checking a patient’s blood could help identify the accurate treatment for depression.

Currently, medical practitioners have to depend on trial and error for choosing the best drug for the patients. Around half of the time, the first type of antidepressant prescribed for the patient fails to provide any relief.

The blood test is described in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology. It is the result of years of investigation by researchers.

Jenny Edwards of the Mental Health Foundation said,

“If this test is as comprehensive and effective as thought then today’s news could mark a real sea-change in treatment.”

Markers of Inflammation

The test looks for two specific markers of inflammation, a compound called macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF) and another called interleukin-1beta.

Patients who have high levels of these markers were less likely to respond to SSRI and tricyclic antidepressants.

Lead researcher Prof Carmine Pariante said the test could help decide the line of treatment for patients.

“About a third of patients might have these inflammatory markers and they would be people we might encourage to go on more aggressive treatment.”

Prof Pariante said,

“We would not want to go in prescribing too much medicine if it’s not necessary, but we would want to escalate people sooner rather than later if they need it.”

He said that inflammation could be the body’s response to stress, but it also gets in the way of drug treatment.

Also, high levels of inflammation can interfere with the same biological processes that are crucial for antidepressants to work.

Prof Pariante and his team are now planning to test if prescribing anti-inflammatory drugs alongside antidepressants might help the patients.

However, he said,

“Patients should not change their medication on their own or take an anti-inflammatory without guidance from their doctor.”

Small Trial

For the study, the researchers tried out their blood test on a small number of 140 volunteers, all of whom were suffering from depression.

The researchers said that those who test positive for inflammation need a more aggressive therapy right from the beginning of the treatment.

The researchers said they would need a larger trial to check how well the blood test might work in the real world.

Experts also point out that medication is not the only treatment for depression.

Stephen Buckley from the mental health charity Mind said,

“Different people will find that different treatments help to manage their mental health – what is most important is that people have the knowledge needed to access the treatment that works for them, whether this is medication, or alternatives such as talking therapies, or a mixture of both.”

Marjorie Wallace from the mental health charity SANE said,

“Being able to target those people with depression who don’t respond to medication would be one of the most exciting steps forward in the treatment of mental illness for decades.”