Saturday, November 28, 2009

Blood tests to detect mental illnesses being developed

From the Los Angeles Times:

Scientists are moving closer to developing blood tests that can diagnose serious mental disorders, according to a study published this week in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

A consortium of researchers showed they could identify blood biomarkers for two key psychotic symptoms: hallucinations and delusions. They relied on a technique termed convergent functional genomics that integrates several independent lines of evidence from human and animal models to identify and prioritize findings. The same approach has been used to look for genes and gene pathways linked to bipolar disorder, alcoholism and schizophrenia. Last year, the researchers published blood biomarkers for mood disorders.

Much more work will be required in order for such blood tests to be used for diagnosing and treating mental illnesses. However, the technology would be a milestone because psychiatric disorders now are diagnosed -- often with a great deal of uncertainty -- by evaluating symptoms. And there are few good ways to measure, biologically, how a medication is working. The study was conducted at the Indiana University School of Medicine and Roudebush VA Medical Center; Scripps Research Institute at UC San Diego; and State University of New York, Syracuse.

"Objective blood biomarkers for illness state and treatment responses would make a significant difference in our ability to assess and treat patients with psychiatric disorders, eliminating subjectivity and reliance on patient's self-report of symptoms," the authors wrote in the paper.

Perhaps such tests would even prevent health insurance companies from refusing to pay for treatments for mental illness.