UK scientists have developed a blood test to help doctors pick the best drug for patients with depression.
Medics currently have to rely on trial and error, meaning around half of the time, the first type of antidepressant given fails to work.
The researchers from King’s College London say checking a patient’s blood could help identify accurate treatment.
Those who test positive for inflammation need more aggressive therapy from the outset, they say.
The blood test looks for two specific markers of inflammation and, in the study, patients with high levels of these markers were unlikely to respond to conventional, commonly-prescribed antidepressants.
Lead researcher Professor Carmine Pariante says this knowledge could help tailor treatment to the individual.
“About a third of patients might have these inflammatory markers, and they would be people we might encourage to go on more aggressive treatment,” he explains.
“We would not want to go in prescribing too much medicine if it’s not necessary, but we would want to escalate people sooner rather than later if they need it.”
Professor Pariante suspects the inflammation is the body’s response to stress but, paradoxically, it actually gets in the way of drug treatment working properly.
High levels of inflammation can interfere with the same biological processes that are crucial for antidepressants to work.
He and his team are looking to test whether giving anti-inflammatory drugs alongside antidepressants might help.
But he cautions: “Patients should not change their medication on their own or take an anti-inflammatory without guidance from their doctor.”