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Could personalized medicine help with psychiatric care?

May 1, 2015

Pensive Young Boy

The ideal in medicine is that each illness has a cure, but as we know, this is not always the case. Further, many conditions may respond to a variety of treatments – some much better than others. The waiting period associated with figuring out which medication works best for a particular patient can be arduous and frustrating, particularly with sequential treatment failures. A new pharmacogenetic test can help identify which of several medications may be best for a person with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

A common condition
While psychological disorders tend to receive less attention than physical ailments, they are some of the most prevalent conditions among U.S. adolescents. According to 2011 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 11% of children between 4 and 17 years old have been diagnosed with ADHD, up from 9.5% in 2007 and 7.8% in 2003. The CDC also noted that the annual societal cost for ADHD is somewhere between $36 billion and $52 billion. ADHD, however, responds differently to different medications.

Psych Central explained that matching patients' brain chemistry to the medications that will prove the most beneficial has long been implausible – if not downright impossible. Instead, psychiatrists usually cycle through a cadre of drugs to see the effects on the patient before settling on one, which can be costly not only in money but also time and the patient's expense. Thanks to a new test that costs less than $100, this may be changing.

A refined approach
Bob Bean, chief executive officer of pharmacogenetic research firm Harmonyx, told Yahoo that his organization may have identified a way to use genetic biomarkers to use genetic biomarkers to identify the most promising ADHD medications for specific patients.

"Most parents use a watch, wait and hope strategy," Bean said. "This test is offering an affordable, rapid, personalized approach … and a lot better chance of getting it solved."

Harmonyx's new diagnostic test is simple enough to perform at home: Swab the cheek for a biospecimen sample and the testing kit will rank common ADHD medications by the ease with which the body can metabolize their ingredients. The test is available as an over-the-counter product, but due to state regulations on laboratory testing, only 14 states allow sale of the new offering.

"It is not a panacea but it is a level of insight into how your body works with drugs to get the results they were approved for in the first place," Bean told Yahoo. "This is one more brick in the wall of understanding the effectiveness of a drug."

The more information physicians have on their patients' genetic makeups, the more precisely they can target treatments. Various medical specialties have benefited from the introduction of personalized medicine to their traditional clinical practices, and psychiatry is well-situated to be next in line.