Blood markers can predict depression in pregnancy

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (January 26, 2022) — Signs of inflammation in the blood reliably predict and identify severe depression in pregnancy, reports a new study led by scientists at Van Andel Institute and Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services.

From left to right: Qiong Sha, Ph.D., of VAI, Lena Brundin, M.D., Ph.D. of VAI, Eric Achtyes, M.D., M.S. of Pine Rest, LeAnn Smart of Pine Rest

The team’s analysis established a set of 15 biological markers found in the blood that can predict if pregnant women will experience significant depressive symptoms with 83% accuracy. The findings could give physicians a much-needed tool to identify women who may be at risk for depression and better tailor their care throughout pregnancy.

Nearly one in five new mothers experience severe depression during or after pregnancy and an estimated 14% have suicidal thoughts. Inflammation can lead to worsening depressive symptoms, and pregnancy is a major inflammatory event.

“Depression isn’t just something that happens in the brain — its fingerprints are everywhere in the body, including in our blood,” said Lena Brundin, M.D., Ph.D., a VAI professor and co-senior author of the study. “The ability to predict pregnancy-related depression and its severity will be a gamechanger for protecting the health of mothers and their infants. Our findings are an important leap forward toward this goal.”

The study, published today in Translational Psychiatry, is among the first of its kind and followed 114 volunteers from Spectrum Health’s Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics throughout their pregnancies. Participants provided blood samples and underwent clinical evaluations for depressive symptoms in each trimester and the postpartum period.

“Having an objective and easily accessible method associated with depression risk, such as a blood test, provides a unique tool for helping identify women who may develop depression during pregnancy,” said Eric Achtyes, M.D., M.S., staff psychiatrist at Pine Rest, an associate professor at Michigan State University and co-senior author of the study. “Our findings are an exciting development and an important first step toward using these types of methods more widely to help patients. Our next steps include replicating the results in additional patient samples to verify cut-offs for depression risk.”

Co-authors on the study include Qiong Sha, Ph.D., Zach Madaj, M.S., Sarah Keaton, Ph.D., Martha L. Escobar Galvis, Ph.D., and Stanislaw Krzyzanowski of VAI; LeAnn Smart of Pine Rest; Asgerally T. Fazleabas, Ph.D., and Richard Leach, M.D., of Michigan State University College of Human Medicine; and Teodor T. Postolache, M.D., of University of Maryland School of Medicine.

The authors would like to thank the study participants, whose selfless contributions made this work — and these discoveries — possible.

Research reported in this publication was supported by Van Andel Institute, Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services and the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health under award no. R01MH104622 (Brundin). The clinical trial identifier is NCT02566980. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

The confidential National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is free and available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

###

ABOUT VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE
Van Andel Institute (VAI) is committed to improving the health and enhancing the lives of current and future generations through cutting edge biomedical research and innovative educational offerings. Established in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1996 by the Van Andel family, VAI is now home to nearly 500 scientists, educators and support staff, who work with a growing number of national and international collaborators to foster discovery. The Institute’s scientists study the origins of cancer, Parkinson’s and other diseases and translate their findings into breakthrough prevention and treatment strategies. Our educators develop inquiry-based approaches for K-12 education to help students and teachers prepare the next generation of problem-solvers, while our Graduate School offers a rigorous, research-intensive Ph.D. program in molecular and cellular biology. Learn more at vai.org.

ABOUT PINE REST CHRISTIAN MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES
Pine Rest, the fourth largest behavioral health provider in the country, has been the proven leader and preeminent behavioral health partner in West Michigan for decades. It offers a full continuum of services including inpatient and partial hospitalization, psychiatric urgent care, residential and outpatient services, addiction treatment and recovery, extensive child and adolescent programs, senior care services, as well as specialized assessment and treatment clinics. In addition to the main campus in Grand Rapids, Pine Rest has 19 outpatient locations throughout West and Northern Michigan. With over 300 world class physicians, clinicians, and advanced practice professionals, Pine Rest has the most expertise and experience to serve Michigan’s behavioral health care needs. It is also a teaching hospital for the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. For more information, go to www.pinerest.org.

Media Contacts

Beth Hinshaw Hall
Van Andel Institute
beth.hinshawhall@vai.org
Office: 616-234-5519
Cell: 616-822-2064

Zane McMillin
Van Andel Institute
zane.mcmillin@vai.org
Office: 616-234-5780
Cell: 517-819-1476

Phil Meade
Pine Rest Christian Mental Health
phillip.meade@pinerest.org
Office: 616-258-7511 ext. 2033
Cell: 616-856-1984