Teen angst. A lot of parents would say the two words are synonymous. The adolescent period of growth is filled with challenges, new beginnings and endings, a fair share of drama and sometimes depression. Teens and parents both can have a difficult time understanding the mechanics of depression. When your teen’s depression lingers, the question then becomes… is this something that will pass, or is it more serious and needs treatment?
A new study suggests that teens may one day be able to take a simple blood test that will determine whether they are suffering from normal teenage angst or clinical depression.
In a pilot study of 28 adolescents, scientists showed that teenage depression could be diagnosed through a panel of 11 genetic markers, according to a report published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.
If the results are confirmed in larger trials, doctors may one day be able to screen for depression just as they do for diabetes, says study co-author Eva Redei, the David Lawrence Stein professor of psychiatric diseases affecting children and adolescents at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.
The new research could also provide help for adults who suffer with depression. The identification of specific biomarkers and new genes may also lead to new and more effective treatments.
Currently there is no actual test for depression. Diagnosis is subjective and based on a person’s ability to recognize and identify common symptoms. That can be a difficult task for teens that have little experience handling life’s challenges.
Researchers developed their test by first studying rats specially bred to model human depression. While rats don’t experience all the symptoms of depression, interestingly they do show many of the same signs.
“They huddle together,” says Redei. “They don’t move around a lot. They aren’t much interested in playing. They’re less interested in food than normal rats. And they don’t sleep well.”
Intriguingly, the "depressed" rats also respond well to certain antidepressants, says Redei. "In reality, depression affects our ancient brains as much as our new brain,” she says. “And the ancient brain is the same in humans as it is in rats.”
Some scientists believe that severe depression may be caused by a combination of environmental and complicated genetic factors. Given the right genetics, it can be kicked off by “any kind of environmental challenge such as trauma or life stresses” says Redei.
To see how the depressive brain reacts to environmental triggers, Redei and her colleagues looked at differences in the way normal rats and depression-model rats behaved in response to stress. They pulled blood samples from all the rats and found a host of markers that differed between the two groups.
In the second part of their study, the researchers examined blood from 14 depressed and 14 healthy teens, looking at the levels of 26 markers that had been identified in the depression-model rats.
They found that 11 of those markers, taken together, accurately predicted which teens were clinically depressed.
Early diagnosis and treatment for clinical depression could have a monumental impact on the quality of life for both teens and adults. Scientists are hopeful that this research may lead to the development of a dependable diagnostic blood test for anyone suffering from severe depression.
To learn more about the symptoms of and treatments for teen depression, http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/teen-depression, offers a comprehensive outline.