A University of Ottawa professor is looking for a better way to treat severe depression, and thinks the answer may be in our genes.

Dr. Pierre Blier, a professor at the Brain and Mind Research Institute, is part of a nationwide research team called CAN-BIND that is trying to identify biology markers that will quickly indicate which treatment is best for each patient. Biomarkers are “biological and clinical characteristics that will help guide treatment selection,” CAN-BIND states on its website.

According to Blier, half of those who die by suicide in Canada were already being treated for severe depression. The problem is, between medication, psychotherapy and other treatments, finding what works can be a lengthy process of trial and error.

“It’s a huge problem because whenever a physician gives a first-line treatment, only one out three patients will go into remission,” Blier told CTV Ottawa. “So two-thirds of patients will have to do more things and this may take weeks, months and sometimes years before you hit the right treatment.”

Claude Lurette said he struggled with depression for decades before he found what worked for him. He said for all the sufferers, a blood test to determine a course of treatment can’t come soon enough.

“Maybe the next 11-year-old doesn’t have to wait until he or she is 31 before they finally get hospitalized and get the treatment that they need,” Lurette told CTV Ottawa.

CAN-BIND looks for distinct biomarkers by studying brainwaves, genes and the behaviour of patients. They are hoping biomarkers can readily link an individual with a successful therapy.

The ultimate goal to is find a method of diagnosis through something as simple as a blood test, which would save years of trial and error mental health treatment and thousands of lives.

“If we could diminish suicide ideation faster, there would be less side effects,” Blier said.

His initial study results have been encouraging, Blier said, adding he’s hopeful that treating depression using biomarkers is just a few years away.

With a report by CTV Ottawa’s Eric Longley