Personalized treatment for depression could soon be the norm for millions of Americans thanks to a new test that predicts whether patients will respond to commonly prescribed antidepressants
For those dealing with depression, finding the right antidepressant currently involves a ton of trial and error—it's estimated that half of the time the first type of drug prescribed fails to work. But thanks to a blood test developed by scientists in the UK, finding an effective medication the first time around may become more achievable for those suffering from the common mental illness. (FYI: Experts Say You Should Be Screened for Depression Annually.)
Based on information from past clinical samples which linked increased levels of inflammation to a poorer response to antidepressants, the researchers designed a specific blood test that looks for two markers of inflammation, according to a new study published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology.
Researchers tried out their blood test on 140 volunteers with depression and found that those who showed high levels of these markers were unlikely to respond to conventional, commonly prescribed selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclics (common compounds used in antidepressants). (Those with low levels of inflammation were the only ones who responded to the drugs.) With this information in hand, people with inflammation levels above suggested cut-offs could be directed toward "more assertive antidepressant strategies, including the addition of other antidepressants or anti-inflammatory drugs," the study authors explained.
While the study was small and a larger trial is still needed, the researchers are pretty confident that this new approach could be the way of the future when it comes to treating depression. "We believe that these data provide a clinically suitable approach to the personalization of antidepressant therapy," the study concluded.
Considering the fact that depression affects over 15 million Americans every year, according to the National Insititute of Mental Health (it also affects about twice as many women as men) and that anti-depressants are one of the most prescribed drugs in the U.S., this solution seems way overdue. (Related: Are Antidepressants the New Cure-All?)
With any luck, this test could make a doctor's job of trying to prescribe the right meds a whole lot easier, and—most importantly—save those suffering from depression a lot of time, money, and energy so they can get better sooner.