GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A new study, spearheaded by local scientists from Van Andel Institute and Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, suggest signs of inflammation in the blood could help doctors predict, find and identify severe depression in pregnancy.

“Depression isn’t just something that happens in the brain — its fingerprints are everywhere in the body, including in our blood,” Lena Brundin, M.D., Ph.D., a VAI professor and co-senior author of the study, said. “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.” 

Nearly one in five new mothers expereince severe depression during or after pregnancy and around 14% have suicidal thoughts. The new study looked at 114 volunteer patients from Spectrum Health’s Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics and concluded that doctors could reliably identify women at an increased risk for pregnancy-related depression with 83% accuracy.

Doctors Brundin and Qiong Sha from VAI, along with Dr. Eric Achtyes and LeAnn Smart of Pine Rest, helped create 15 biological markers found in the blood to establish this tool for doctors to more efficiently find and treat depression in new moms. They used blood samples from the volunteers in each trimester and postpartum period and conducted clinical evolutions for depressive symptoms in each participant.

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,” Achtye said. “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.”

Other contributing co-authors to the study include Ph.D., Zach Madaj, M.S., Sarah Keaton, Ph.D., Martha L. Escobar Galvis, Ph.D., and Stanislaw Krzyzanowski of VAI; 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.