Mental Health Innovation: MDDScore is the first-ever blood test that screens biological indicators of depression, like inflammation and neurochemicals (the company that makes it won't reveal which ones it tests for, exactly). The test, which will soon be out in the U.S. and requires a doctor's order, is the first “objective diagnostic measure” for the disorder— which means you can get a diagnosis based on biological markers of the disease. You get a numerical score that suggests how likely it is that you have depression. Studies show that MDD Score is about as accurate at making a diagnosis as the most rigorous questionnaires.
Who: Lonna J. Williams
What She Does: CEO of Ridge Diagnostics, the company introducing MDDScore
Why It's Innovative: "Every psychiatrist and primary care physician we talk to says…they need to be able to diagnosis early and get the patients on the right treatment,” says Williams. “And they need to know as quickly as possible if the treatment is working.” The test has the potential to improve treatment, as well, because patients may be more accepting of a blood-test result, she says. "It's of significant impact to the patient. Suddenly the patient sees a blood test that says ‘this is your disorder.’ It's like any other disorder. It's not in your head. It's meaningful. It's not your fault. The stigma abates and they become more involved in their own care."
The idea for the MDDScore blood test first came up when a scientist who was studying biological signs of depression saw how those “biomarkers” changed when patients responded to therapy. The scientist's son had a mental health disorder that had been misdiagnosed and, in turn, he wasn’t being treated appropriately. That was further motivation to try to create a biologically-based diagnostic test for major depression, Williams says.
The Problem That Keeps Her Up at Night: "Are physicians going to accept this and make it available to their patients? I believe strongly that patients will embrace it. But any time something new is introduced to physicians, they can be a little hesitant until some time goes by. I look forward to physicians embracing this."
Where Mental Health Needs More Innovation: “We need stronger and larger consumer awareness organizations, such as those that address cancer or HIV or other highly prevalent diseases," says Williams. “There hasn't been much of that with mental health. There is no organized patient advocacy. There are bits and pieces here and there, but they are disparate and not organized. I think this industry needs to start creating that to help with innovation and education and abatement of the stigma."
How You Can Take Action: "Seek out innovative technologies. There are physicians who are using treatments other than drugs. There are particular blood tests or genetic tests that can tell you if you are a metabolizer of one kind of drug or another. There is more personalization of medicine." Moreover, she adds, don't be embarrassed by having a mental health disorder. "There shouldn't be a stigma. It's not your fault. The more these technologies become broadly used, the more the stigma will abate."
The MDDScore test is expected to cost $745 if paid for out-of-pocket.
Would you trust a blood test to diagnose depression? If you deal with depression, what innovations would you like to see in diagnosis or treatment?
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Shari Roan is an award-winning health writer based in Southern California. She is the author of three books on health and science subjects.