Up until now a definitive depression test has not been possible. Doctors have had to rely on a patient’s signs and symptoms, as well as his family and medical history, in order to identify whether he fits into a set of diagnostic criteria which are used to diagnose depression. This set of criteria, which is outlined in a handbook called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), is not nearly as precise as many patients would like, however. Many believe that if there were some sort of laboratory test to detect depression, it would give what is often perceived as being “all in the head” a greater legitimacy as a biologically-based illness. It might also make it easier to diagnose and treat what is a very common, but often underdiagnosed, condition.
A company called Ridge Diagnostics believes they may have come up with just such a test.
Their test, called MDDScore, is a blood test which is designed to measure nine different biomarkers which have been associated with depression. Biomarkers are measurable parameters which can be used to detect states of health and disease within the body. According to Lonna Williams, the CEO of Ridge Diagnostics, the biomarkers in MDDScore are a group of hormones, proteins and enzymes which have been shown to predictably change in people who are suffering from depression. Their depression test is designed to measure changes in these biomarkers. After the test is analyzed, the patient then receives a detailed list and overall score, ranging from one to nine.
Williams notes that a score of five or more indicates a strong likelihood (90 percent) that a person has major depressive disorder. A score of one to four indicates a strong likelihood (95 percent) that a person is not suffering from the illness.
These scores were determined by making comparisons with the structured, rigorously-tested interview tools which are currently used in detecting depression in clinical settings.
To determine how effective the test is in diagnosing depression, a small study was conducted at three hospitals. The study found that the test was quite effective at distinguishing between those with and without depression.
The study authors did, however, conclude that more research is needed to test the performance of the test in various groups and settings.
Ridge Diagnostics notes that their depression test won’t be able to replace the clinical judgement of a physician, but it can augment all the other tools that doctors have at their disposal in confirming a diagnosis.
A San Diego psychiatrist named Michael Lardon, who has been using the test for his patients, says he finds it very useful to be able to provide his patients with an objective confirmation of their depression. It helps them buy into treatment, he says, which helps in their recovery.
The proprietary new depression test currently costs about $800 and is covered by most insurance plans. It can be ordered by any physician, but the blood sample must be drawn by one of Ridge Diagnostics’ approved locations and shipped off to the company’s lab in North Carolina.
By Nancy Schimelpfening