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Indiana U researcher develops blood test to detect and measure PTSD


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: June 5th, 2019

A researcher at Indiana University (IU) is developing a blood test to detect and measure the severity of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in patients.

According to Alexander Niculescu, professor of psychology at the IU School of Medicine, PTSD can go undetected in combat veterans and others, who may view the disorder as a weakness and therefore avoid admitting symptoms. Niculescu aims to remove the ambiguity surrounding PTSD diagnosis by creating a blood test for this complicated condition.

Despite years of treating patients with PTSD, the common method of asking patients questions to diagnose the disorder still makes Niculescu uncomfortable.

“In cardiology, for example, when someone comes in with chest pain, we don’t just rely on their self-report of the chest pain — we do a blood test and enzyme panel to really assess the severity of symptoms,” he says. “We need a more objective way of measuring the severity of [PTSD] symptoms, not just relying on what people are reporting or our impressions as clinicians. We want to enable precision medicine in psychiatry, like other fields in medicine.”

In his research, Niculescu has identified a series of biomarkers related to stress. While everyone is born with these biomarkers, people who are developing or who already suffer PTSD have a higher level of these biomarkers in their blood.

The ability to detect PTSD is particularly important for patients who may not have been through an obvious source of trauma, such as war, but who suffer nonetheless. “Because there’s not that obvious history of being in combat or some dramatic event, they sometimes don’t get asked about the symptoms of PTSD, and hence the diagnosis gets missed,” says Niculescu. “So a lot of people live with the symptoms and self-medicate with alcohol and other things.”

The test doesn’t simply detect the biomarkers, either; it can measure how active they are, enabling clinicians to assess the severity of the symptoms in each individual patient.

“When our patients hear about this, they tell us if there was a biological test, they would feel much better about coming to terms with their disease and seeking treatment, because they would understand it’s not all in their head. It’s not a weakness” says Niculescu. “By showing them [PTSD] is a biological illness like having diabetes … you remove the stigma and give them hope.”

With help from the IU Research and Technology Corp., Niculescu is working to launch a start-up to eventually commercialize the blood test.

Source: Inside INdiana Business

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