A blood test to detect anxiety

A team of Israeli scientists has discovered a very innovative way to detect people suffering from anxiety disorders: a simple and inexpensive blood test which should be available next year.
Written by Roland Piquepaille, Inactive

According to IsraCast, a team of Israeli scientists has discovered a very innovative way to detect people suffering from anxiety disorders but who appear to be healthy. A simple blood test will reveal if you're unable to handle stress and if you need a medical treatment without the need for any psychological advise. Such a simple test would be particularly helpful for soldiers returning from war zones or for people having being subjected to severe stress, such as after terrorist attacks or natural disasters. This blood test should be available next year. But the researchers are already working on another diagnosis tool, this one for depression.

This blood test is based on research done by Hermona Soreq and her colleagues at the Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel.

Here is a brief background about the chemical reactions behind the phenomenon of anxiety disorder.

Acetylcholine (ACh) is a neurotransmitter of the central nervous system. [...] Over the years studies have shown that when the body feels stress (for example when a child jumps in front of your car) the level of ACh in the synapses rises. In order for the body to return to normal levels of ACh a special enzyme called Acetylcholinesterase (AChE) which breaks down the ACh, springs into action.
Normally the levels of ACh and AchE decrease after the cause of the stress disappears, but people suffering from anxiety disorders continue to maintain high levels of ACh and AChE. [...] Previous studies on mice suggested that two other enzymes called butyrylcholinesterase (BChE) and paraoxonase (PON) are also involved in the anxiety controlling mechanism.

Then Soreq and her team got the idea of checking if people showing abnormal levels of AChE, BChE and PON would also exhibit anxiety symptoms by accessing a U.S. database of 461 individuals. When they found a correlation of 90% between these two kinds of events, the idea of a blood test was born.

As an example of the technology currently used in Soreq's lab, below is a picture of "the SPECTRAFluor machine in the Hebrew university is used to measure the level of AChE enzyme in the blood serum" (Credit for image and caption: IsraCast).

The SPECTRAFluor machine

So when such a test will be available?

According to Soreq the blood test will be inexpensive, accurate and will take only a few hours to receive the results. Currently the blood test is not yet available, [but] if all goes according to plan, [it should] be available on the market in less than a year.

Obviously, not everyone agrees with the fact that this blood test will be inexpensive and accurate. For example, here is what you can read on the World of Psychology blog.

After reading through this article, it appears this new blood test is:
1. Not something scientifically-accepted yet.
2. Is not less expensive.
3. Is not more accurate.
4. Does not take less time.
5. Involves more professionals, a needle and blood draw, and likely more inconvenience for the client/patient in most circumstances.

The author says that this research work was not mentioned in peer-reviewed scientific publications. In fact, this is not true. Some of this research work has been published by the Processings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) under the name "Acetylcholinesterase/paraoxonase genotype and expression predict anxiety scores in Health, Risk Factors, Exercise Training, and Genetics study" (Vol. 101, No. 15, Pages 5512–5517, April 13, 2004). Here are two links to the abstract and the full paper (PDF format, 6 pages, 455 KB).

And, even if it doesn't guarantee that the device will work as well as described in the IsraCast article, it is the object of the European patent WO2005035788 published on April 21, 2005 under the name "Method and kit for assessing anxiety or disposition thereto in a subject." Here is a link to all documents associated with this patent and here is the abstract.

The invention provides methods/kits for assessing levels of trait or state anxiety in a subject by comparing genotypes and/or expression patterns at the ACHE, PON1 and/or BChE genes to the genotype and/or expression pattern of the genes in a reference population whose genotype and/or expression pattern of the genes is known or by correlating AChE levels activity to those of PON.

Finally, the researchers are actively seeking for industrial partners through Yissum, the Research Development Company of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in charge of the commercialization of the Genomic Approach to the Treatment of Anxiety project.

Sources: Iddo Genuth, IsraCast, October 10, 2005; and various web sites

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