In the Works: a Postpartum Depression Blood Test

$250 test detects gene linked to increased risk
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 30, 2024 2:10 PM CDT
In the Works: a Postpartum Depression Blood Test
The test has the potential to revolutionize the diagnosis of postpartum depression.   (Getty Images/Drazen Zigic)

A genetic test powered by artificial intelligence could inform women at risk of postpartum depression, a leading cause of maternal death, before they even become pregnant. Researchers at startup Dionysus Digital Health have developed a $250 blood test based on a gene found to closely link moods with hormonal changes. The test—viewed as an improvement on the standard postpartum-depression screening, in which a doctor asks a patient a series of questions about their mood and thoughts—"uses machine learning to compare epigenetics—how genes are expressed—in your blood sample with benchmarks developed during a decade of research into pregnant people who did and didn't develop postpartum depression," the Washington Post reports.

The startup launching clinical trials aims to make the test available to women to use at any time, though medical providers are likely to administer it between the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, per the Post. The hope is that better diagnostics will help women get preventive care before their condition leads to hospitalizations or worse. "It can actually predict before an illness has occurred or if someone has an increased risk, in this case, of postpartum depression," Dionysus co-founder and CEO Andrea Cubitt told the San Diego Business Journal last year.

There are, however, concerns about the AI model's training data, which comes from a group of mostly white patients at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. AI models tend to replicate biases in data. However, Dionysus says it will be able to validate its model with more diverse groups of patients thanks to a $6 million grant from the Department of Defense. It will likely be years before the test receives FDA approval. Dionysus hopes insurers and employers will eventually agree to cover the $250 cost. If they don't, experts fear the test is likely to be utilized only be those who can afford it. AI is also being used in other interventions, including a postpartum depression chatbot developed by researchers at the University of Texas, per Fox News. (More postpartum depression stories.)

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