The Scientific Path to Developing Precision Mental Health Diagnostics and Treatments Through Biomarkers

Matt Kuntz with ChatGPT

Matt Kuntz

July 27, 2023

Image ofa painting of a Montana prairies with wildflowers, clouds, and blue sky
Image ofa painting of a Montana prairies with wildflowers, clouds, and blue sky

Acknowledgement – Co-drafted with Chat GPT with illustration by DALL-E

Precision mental health diagnostics and treatments through biomarkers is a field that aims to provide accurate and individualized mental health diagnosis and treatments using biological markers. The scientific path to developing precision mental health diagnostics and treatments through biomarkers involves several key steps:

  • Identifying potential biomarkers: This involves researching and identifying biological markers that are associated with specific mental health conditions.

  • Validation of biomarkers: Once potential biomarkers have been identified, they must be validated through large-scale studies to ensure that they are accurate and reliable indicators of the mental health condition.

  • Development of diagnostic tests: The validated biomarkers are then used to develop diagnostic tests that can accurately diagnose the mental health condition.

  • Clinical trials: The diagnostic tests are then tested in large clinical trials to determine their accuracy, sensitivity, and specificity in diagnosing the mental health condition.

  • Personalized treatments: Once a mental health condition has been accurately diagnosed, the next step is to develop personalized treatments based on the individual's biomarkers.

  • Monitoring and evaluation: The effectiveness of the personalized treatments must be monitored and evaluated over time to ensure that they are effective and safe.

  • Implementation: The validated diagnostic tests and personalized treatments are then implemented into clinical practice to help improve the accuracy and effectiveness of mental health diagnosis and treatment.

Expanding on the above points, we can delve into the various tools being used to explore and validate these potential biomarkers. Notably, the field is employing techniques like electroencephalograms (EEGs), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), blood tests, and genetic testing.

EEGs are a non-invasive method that records the electrical activity of the brain. Abnormal EEG patterns are being investigated as potential biomarkers for various mental health conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, and schizophrenia. For example, patients with ADHD often exhibit a greater theta/beta ratio, a pattern that can be measured using EEG technology.

Functional MRI (fMRI) is a neuroimaging procedure that measures brain activity by detecting changes associated with blood flow. By visualizing the active parts of the brain during certain tasks or in response to certain stimuli, researchers can identify patterns that correlate with specific mental health disorders. In the realm of depression, for example, certain brain regions show increased or decreased activity, which might serve as potential biomarkers.

Blood tests are another valuable tool in the search for biomarkers. Researchers are looking at various blood-based biomarkers, including hormones, inflammatory markers, and metabolites, to see if they can help diagnose mental health disorders or predict the likelihood of developing one. For instance, elevated levels of C-reactive protein (an inflammatory marker) in the blood have been associated with an increased risk for depression.

Genetic testing is another exciting frontier in precision mental health. Our genes play a crucial role in our mental health, and different genetic variants have been associated with an increased risk of mental health disorders. By identifying these genetic risk factors, researchers hope to be able to predict who might be at risk for certain disorders and develop personalized prevention and treatment strategies.

In summary, the development of precision mental health diagnostics and treatments requires a comprehensive approach, involving several steps from the identification and validation of biomarkers to their integration into clinical practice. Tools like EEG, fMRI, blood tests, and genetic testing are playing a crucial role in this process, each providing a different piece of the puzzle.

Despite the promise, it's important to note that precision mental health is still an emerging field. While there have been significant advances, more research is needed to refine these tools, validate the proposed biomarkers, and ensure that the diagnostic tests and personalized treatments they enable are both safe and effective. However, the potential to revolutionize mental health care and provide tailored, effective treatments to those who need them most is a compelling vision that continues to drive this field forward.

Related Articles:

Chang, J., & Choi, Y. (2023). Depression diagnosis based on electroencephalography power ratios. Brain and behavior, e3173. Advance online publication.

Dominicus, L. S., Oranje, B., Otte, W. M., Ambrosen, K. S., Düring, S., Scheepers, F. E., Stam, C. J., Glenthøj, B. Y., Ebdrup, B. H., & van Dellen, E. (2023). Macroscale EEG characteristics in antipsychotic-naïve patients with first-episode psychosis and healthy controls. Schizophrenia (Heidelberg, Germany), 9(1), 5.

Curtis, M. T., Ren, X., Coffman, B. A., & Salisbury, D. F. (2023). Attentional M100 gain modulation localizes to auditory sensory cortex and is deficient in first-episode psychosis. Human brain mapping, 44(1), 218–228.

Metin, S. Z., Erguzel, T. T., Ertan, G., Salcini, C., Kocarslan, B., Cebi, M., Metin, B., Tanridag, O., & Tarhan, N. (2018). The Use of Quantitative EEG for Differentiating Frontotemporal Dementia From Late-Onset Bipolar Disorder. Clinical EEG and neuroscience, 49(3), 171–176.

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