Blood test for efficacy of antidepressants in the future?

Scientists have found that a biomarker for depression could show whether a person's antidepressant is working. The discovery could lead to something everyone in the psych world has been waiting for: a blood test of some kind.

The researchers looked at the interaction of neurotransmitters and a protein called Gs alpha. In brain cells, the protein acts like a kind of butler, passing messages from neurotransmitters on the outside and amplifying their messages, [study co-author Mark] Rasenick explained.

When the protein is working properly, it's like a butler whose "hands are just flying, cooking and cleaning at the same time," he said. But when the brain is depressed, "it just sits there in the corner."

That's an interesting observation. This might finally explain the difference between "depressed" brain activity and normal brain activity on an MRI. (By the way, has anyone had an MRI performed for depression?)

Researchers compared the proteins in the brains of people who committed suicide as a result of depression to those who did not. "They found the protein would have worked less effectively in the brain cells of the suicide victims."

Dr. Gregory Simon conceded that doctors cannot determine which antidepressant will work for which person.

"There's a long history of research using patterns of symptoms or biological measures — chemicals measured in blood or spinal fluid — to predict response to a particular antidepressant. None of those hoped-for predictors have significant value.

[Genetic tests] would not eliminate trial-and-error, but it would reduce the waiting time with each trial. But it's a long way from a study like this one to a test that's useful to patients and doctors."

Good news for the skeptics about this research study: It was funded by the U.S. Public Health Service and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. But a test simply to see if an antidepressant is working has the smell of pharma somewhere on it.

(Hat tip: Ephphatha)

Blogs around the way

I’m catching up on reading my fellow bloggers’ posts (see Blogroll to the right), so if you’re not reading their site already, I’d encourage you to do so. Below  are some posts that caught my attention. Some might be a little dated.

Gianna at Bipolar Blast: Has a video up of Gwen Olsen, an ex-pharma rep who says that pharmaceutical companies aren’t in the  business of curing but in the business of "disease maintenance and symptom management." It’s nothing new but here are two quotes that caught my attention:

"And what I’m saying is provable is that the pharmaceutical industry doesn’t want to cure people. You need to understand specifically when we’re talking about psychiatric drugs in particular that these are drugs that encourage people to remain customers of the pharmaceutical industry. In fact, you will be told if you’re given a drug such as an anxiolytic, or an antidepressant, or an antipsychotic drug, that you may be on the drug for the rest of your life. And very frequently, people find that they are on the drug for a very long period of time, if not permanently, because they’re almost impossible to get off of. Some of them can have very serious withdrawal symptoms – most of them can have extremely serious withdrawal symptoms if they’re stopped cold turkey – but some people experience even withdrawal symptoms when they try to titrate or they try to eliminate the drug little by little, day after day."

"We have got to start making the pharmaceutical industry accountable for their actions and for the defective products they’re putting on the market. It won’t be long before every American is affected by this disaster and we need to be aware of what the differences are between diseases between disorders and between syndromes. Because if it doesn’t have to be scientifically proven, if there are no tests, if there are no blood tests, CAT scans, urine tests, MRIs – if there is nothing to document that you have disease, then you in fact, do not have a disease, you have a disorder and it has been given and has been diagnosed pretentiously and you need to get yourself educated and understand that there are options and those options are much more effective than drugs."

I’ve always wondered why doctors don’t run tests to diagnose any psychiatric disorders. From NIMH:

Research indicates that depressive illnesses are disorders of the brain. Brain-imaging technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), have shown that the brains of people who have depression look different than those of people without depression. The parts of the brain responsible for regulating mood, thinking, sleep, appetite and behavior appear to function abnormally. In addition, important neurotransmitters–chemicals that brain cells use to communicate–appear to be out of balance. But these images do not reveal why the depression has occurred.

If MRIs have shown that the people with depression have a part of the brain that functions abnormally then why isn’t it standard for all people diagnosed with depression to have an MRI done to confirm this? I have one of two hypotheses:  it’s too expensive to get an MRI done for each person and that insurance won’t pay for it or the abnormal functioning cannot be detected in the brain of every depressed person.  Therefore, is major depressive disorder really a made-up diagnosis?

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What a Not-So Novel Idea!

Jotting down a few ideas:

Brain scanHow about a psychiatrist does a blood test on, oh say, 10 different people who seem to have depression… chart symptoms of the same kind, check to see if blood levels are the same or similar, low or high blood pressure, regular pulse, etc? Maybe perform an MRI of the brain and monitor brain activity as the brain is triggered by happy thoughts and then sad thoughts…? What would be the difference (if any)? How about a thyroid check? Why isn’t there a way to measure dopamine and serotonin levels? How can we accurately treat these different neurotransmitters in people if there isn’t a current way to test for those transmitter levels?

Really, I’m not thinking anything new. Hasn’t anyone already thought of/done this?

It also strikes me that when it comes to treating mental illness, neurologists and psychiatrists need to function as one unit.