If you’ve ever needed to change medication – maybe because of a side effect or because it just wasn’t working for you – you know that trial and error is often used to identify the best treatment, especially for mental health conditions.
That practice may soon be a thing of the past with recent advances in precision medicine, sometimes called “personalized medicine,” in which disease prevention and medical treatment are tailored to an individual’s clinical, lifestyle and genetic information.
While precision medicine has been used in physical health care for some time, precision medicine for mental health care is in its infancy.
Historically, medications have been prescribed for the “average” patient, a person of average age, weight, metabolism and other traits. But that one-size-fits-all method doesn’t work for everyone, which has left prescribers casting about for a medication that helps after the most commonly used one has failed.
Precision medicine determines which meds most likely to work
Precision medicine, however, takes the patient’s genes, environment and lifestyle into account to determine which medicines are most likely to work.
For example, evidence has shown that a particular gene metabolizes commonly prescribed opioids. The identification of this gene can help shape decisions about medications, dosage and addressing any adverse effects.
To make the leap from the science lab to the doctor’s office, VA will conduct research on the use of a specific type of genetic testing, called pharmacogenetics, to identify pain medications that may work better, which is particularly important for Veterans experiencing opioid use disorder.
Turning research findings into clinical care for Veterans
VA has the opportunity to research brain and mental health biomarkers among Veterans, thanks to the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2019. VA’s Office of Research and Development and its Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention launched the precision mental health initiative in April.
This initiative will foster coordinated biomarker research on mental health conditions, promote the sharing of anonymous research data, and help turn research findings into clinical care for Veterans.