Scientists and mental health professionals seeking clues to the causes and treatment of mental health conditions are increasingly exploring the role of genetics.
Mental health disorders – the genetic component
Recent studies by the National Institute of Mental Health concluded that a mix of psychological, environmental, biological and genetic factors contribute to common mental health conditions.
Autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disease, schizophrenia and major depression were found to share common genetic variants at the same four chromosomal sites. These included versions of two genes that regulate the flow of calcium into cells.
Although statistically significant, these genetic links only account for a small increased risk of mental illness so can’t yet be used to predict a person’s individual risk of certain mental health conditions.
Genetic testing to optimise treatment
However, where genetics are helping in our understanding of mental illness is in optimising the treatment of common conditions. Not all medications are effective for all patients, the correct dosage may vary and some may cause side-effects in one patient, but not in another.
In the past Psychiatrists and GPs have relied on a trial and error approach to prescribing but this process can take some time, during which symptoms may worsen.
Genetic testing is proving invaluable in identifying which medications will be most effective for individuals and which are likely to be ineffectual or result in side-effects.
Since 2011 when psychiatric genetic testing was first introduced, over 250,000 tests have been carried out. The test is now well-established in the US and the FDA has recently added warnings to 26 psychiatric medications to advise doctors to genetically test their patient before prescribing them.
The Genecept Assay, has more recently become an available psychiatric genetic test in the UK, introduced by Myogenes.
Genecept Assay: How it works
Genecept Assay identifies genetic markers that can determine which treatments will be effective for particular individuals with mental health problems and which are likely to be ineffective or cause side-effects.
The test is administered using a simple cheek swab and then sent to the laboratory for testing.
It can be used as a guide for treatment in a whole range of psychiatric conditions including:
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
- Attention Deficiency Hyperactivity Disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Chronic pain
- Substance abuse
Not only does it reduce side-effects but it also tests six genes that can detect whether the patients is a slow or rapid metaboliser. This helps to determine the correct dosage as slow metabolisers need a lower dose of medication to achieve the same effect.
Administering the test
This genetic test can only be carried out by a doctor. A simple, painless swab is taken from the inside of your cheek and the sample is sent to the Myogenes laboratory for analysis. A detailed patient report is prepared and sent to the doctor, along with psychopharmacogenomic advice about the optimum treatment programme.
In clinical, peer-reviewed studies the test has been shown to improve patient outcomes and reduce medical costs.