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New Blood Test Helps Doctors Choose Accurate Treatment For Depression


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

This blood test looks for markers of inflammation in the patient. Shawn Hempel/Shutterstock

UK researchers have come up with a blood test that will allow doctors to pick the most effective drug for patients experiencing depression. Writing in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, the team from Kings College London (KCL) describe how their test looks for biological markers of inflammation in the patient.

These two markers – a compound called interleukin-1beta and another called macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF) – tended to appear in patients who responded poorly to conventional antidepressant medication. Inflammation is thought to be a response to the body becoming stressed, but if it runs away with itself it can prevent antidepressant medication from working by interfering with other biological processes.


Detecting high levels of these markers would allow medical professionals to prescribe these patients with anti-inflammatory drugs; when the inflammation subsided, their antidepressant medication may become more effective. Although only 140 people were involved in this trial, which is the culmination of many years of painstaking work, a larger trial is the next logical step.

“About a third of patients might have these inflammatory markers and they would be people we might encourage to go on more aggressive treatment,” lead author Carmine Pariante, a professor of biological psychiatry at KCL, told BBC News. However, he warned that “patients should not change their medication on their own or take an anti-inflammatory without guidance from their doctor.”

I had a black dog, and his name was depression. World Health Organization via YouTube

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 350 million people around the world suffer from the debilitating condition. More women are affected than men, and at its worst, it can lead to suicide – 800,000 people die this way every single year.


Depression is not just widespread; it’s also a thoroughly complex subject, and there is currently a huge debate as to what is actually causing it. Is it a psychological issue or a neurological one? One of the more controversial theories that is appearing in the news more frequently as of late considers depression to be a physical malaise, one caused by inflammation in the brain – a side effect of your body responding to what it perceives to be a threat.

However, it’s too simplistic to say that depression is solely a physical problem. There is plenty of psychiatric evidence suggesting that not everyone with depression experiences inflammation; likewise, not all people with high levels of inflammation end up developing depression.

In the case of this study, the focus on inflammation isn’t really related to its potential to cause depression. Rather, it focused on the fact that people who are extremely stressed tend to have markers of inflammation in their blood, and it is the inflammation itself in this case that is interfering with the antidepressant medication.

Of course, treatment for depression doesn’t just take the form of medication. Therapy is often subscribed, and sometimes a combination of both is required. Keeping active and busy, both physically and socially, is recommended, but sometimes depression can be so severe that this becomes essentially impossible to do without help from others.


Antidepressants aren’t the be-all and end-all treatment for depression, just as anti-inflammatory drugs won’t always help treat those resistant to conventional medication. In any case, this study has demonstrated a test that could identify more effective treatments in some people suffering from depression, and that is nothing less than a welcome advancement in the field.


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