Researchers Working To Develop Blood Test That Can Aid Diagnosis of Mental Health Disorders

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Researchers at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center are working on a groundbreaking blood test to detect various mental health disorders such as schizophrenia, postpartum depression, and epilepsy. This test aims to identify psychiatric and neurological issues by analyzing genetic material in human blood, offering a novel method for detecting disease-associated changes in the brain.

Extracellular vesicles released by brain reflect gene activity in the brain

The study in Molecular Psychiatry focuses on extracellular vesicles (EVs) found in the blood, which are small lipid sacs containing genetic materials such as messenger RNA (mRNA). EVs are released by various tissues, including the brain, and carry tissue-specific mRNA, reflecting gene activity within their originating tissue.

This study expands on prior research conducted by Johns Hopkins Medicine in September 2022, which found changes in extracellular vesicle (EV) communication in pregnant women who subsequently experienced postpartum depression.

The study conducted by Dr. Sarven Sabunciyan, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, focused on detecting placenta-specific extracellular vesicles (EVs) during pregnancy. The research showcased the ability to detect EVs originating from specific tissues or organs. Additionally, by analyzing EVs containing mRNA from lab-grown human brain tissue, the team identified mRNA markers in the blood associated with different brain disorders. This discovery offers potential biological markers for conditions currently diagnosed through clinical interviews, presenting a notable advancement in the field.

Early diagnosis prevents outcomes like suicidal behavior

Dr. Lena Smirnova, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, expresses excitement over the lack of a blood marker for brain disorders. Currently, these conditions rely on clinical interviews for diagnosis. The development of a blood test could revolutionize diagnosis, enabling early intervention and potentially preventing severe outcomes like suicidal behavior.

The research methodology focused on identifying brain-specific mRNAs in blood EVs and analyzing their correlation with brain functions and disorders through genetic pathway analysis. This revealed 13 mRNAs associated with postpartum depression, indicating the potential of EV mRNAs as markers for brain activity and pathology.

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