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Northwestern study: Blood test could detect depression in teens

Stressed boy sitting on bed

A Northwestern University scientist has developed a first-of-its-kind blood test for teen depression that might one day be used the same way blood samples are used to help diagnose diabetes or cancer.

The test – developed from a study of anxious, depressed rats – helps take the guesswork out of treating the illness, which often relies on the patient’s ability to describe symptoms and the doctor’s ability to interpret them.

“Right now, depression is treated with a blunt instrument,” said Eva Redei, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and lead investigator of the study. “We need to do better for these kids.”

Redei’s lab began by testing the blood of “severely depressed and anxious” rats.

The researchers identified certain chemicals in the blood of those rats that weren’t present in more upbeat rodents. Redei’s team later tested the blood of 28 adolescents in Ohio, half of whom had been diagnosed with major depression. The researchers found similar chemicals in the depressed teens that were present in the blood of the depressed rats. How do scientists know a rat is depressed? Their behavior and demeanor is apparently quite similar to depressed humans, researchers said.