Mark Rasenick, UIC Innovator of the Year, developed a blood test that can identify whether someone is clinically depressed.
The test can determine, in one week, if an anti-depressant medication is working. Currently, physicians wait two months to determine if treatment is effective before changing dosage or medication.
The implications are enormous. The World Health Organization estimates that by 2020, depression will be the leading cause of disability worldwide. At the same time, Rasenick said, 80 percent of the treatment of depression falls to primary care physicians, who may lack the training to recognize and treat the disorder.
Rasenick, distinguished professor of physiology and biophysics in the College of Medicine, has spent almost three decades studying the biology of mood disorders, G-protein signaling and its interaction with structural proteins in the brain.
Working with Robert Donati, then a doctoral student and now associate professor at the Illinois College of Optometry, he discovered that in depressed individuals, the signaling protein becomes stuck in the cell membrane and its effectiveness is reduced.
“What we’ve developed is a very tenacious assay based on the g-protein,” said Rasenick. “If you keep the blood out for a week, if you freeze it and look at it six months later, the test still gives you the same answer.”
Rasenick’s company, Pax Neuroscience Inc., established in 2008, just received a Small Business Innovation Research award from the federal Small Business Administration. The firm has attracted interest from a pharmaceutical companies and investors, thanks in part to assistance from Christopher Shoemaker, assistant dean in the College of Pharmacy, Rasenick said.
Having an objective test for depression will make diagnosis much more reliable, Rasenick said. “But even better, it tells us immediately who’s not responding (to treatment),” he said. Being able to point to a biologic cause of depression could help fight the stigma associated with mental illness, he said. “The test could save time and money for pharmaceutical companies looking for new drug therapies,” he added.