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Researchers Find That a Blood Test Can Help Diagnose Mood Disorders

December 2, 2021 by Alexa Hornbeck

Researchers from the Indiana University School of Medicine completed a recent study on how blood biomarkers can help diagnose and treat mood disorders.

“The tests are now being made available to interested doctors through a company I co-founded, called MindX Sciences,” said psychiatrist, geneticist and lead researcher Dr. Alexander Niculescu, in an email to The Well News.

Mood disorders like bipolar or depression disorder affect up to one in four individuals in their lifetime, with depression being the leading cause of disability for ages 15-44.

The study finds that due to a lack of objective tests and perceived stigma, mood disorders are often under diagnosed or misdiagnosed, which can lead to individuals self-medicating with alcohol, drugs or suicide. 

Previous studies tracking suicidality, pain and post-traumatic stress disorder showed that blood biomarkers could be used to better diagnose and understand an individual’s mood state. 

The recent findings go a step further in establishing how blood biomarkers also can help predict a clinical course, such as matching patients to medications and measuring the response to treatment. 

To conduct the four-year long clinical trial, researchers recruited 300 participants from the Indianapolis VA Medical Center into three cohorts focused on discovery, validation and testing. 

“We compared with the hundreds of people with mood disorders we have studied in the past and their levels of biomarkers. We also followed people longitudinally, so we were able to discover and validate which biomarkers predicted future outcomes,” said Niculescu.

Participants underwent initial testing in a lab or inpatient psychiatric unit, followed by six testing visits three-six months apart or whenever a new psychiatric hospitalization occurred. 

All participants received psychiatric rating scales and their blood was drawn at each visit. Blood was examined across 26 top candidate blood gene expression biomarkers, including examination of circadian mechanisms, cell differentiation functions or serotonergic signaling. 

“There was a careful process to identify, validate and select the best predictive biomarkers. One surprising finding was that the serotonin transporter, the target of Prozac and other antidepressants, was one of our top blood biomarkers,” said Niculescu.

The research team also analyzed the potential for new drug discovery and repurposing, and according Niculescu there might be an opportunity to use the work to foster collaborations between pharmaceutical companies and physicians to better guide treatment for mood disorders.

Alexa can be reached at alexa@thewellnews.com 

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