Using blood to diagnose mental health conditions

Mary McMillan – Lecturer in Biomedical Science at the University of New England in Armidale, NSW Australia

Stories_insci Stories_insci on July 22, 2018

Mary McMillan

In less than 200 words, what main research questions are you working on? Please make sure to first include a brief context and background to your research, articulate your question(s) and conclude with why you think it’s important to study the them (i.e., the potential broader impacts).
At some point, we, or someone we love, will likely suffer from depression. It’s a serious disease, often with devastating consequences. But better methods of diagnosis and treatment could help change the statistics around depression – and I think the answer may be in our blood. Changes in our brain can change our blood chemistry, altering levels of hormones, proteins and signaling molecules – all things we can measure in a blood sample. If someone is depressed the levels of these biomarkers might change – and we could use these changes to diagnose depression. Blood chemistry could also be used for personalizing treatment. By looking at changes in levels of specific biomarkers we could get an idea about which treatment might be the most effective. We can also get DNA from a blood sample. Our susceptibility to developing depression is partly determined by our genes. Our genes may also dictate how we respond to treatment. From a blood test, we can look at DNA and figure out if someone is susceptible to depression, but also which treatment might be the most useful. We already use blood samples to diagnose other diseases – I just want to extend that to diagnosing mental health conditions.

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