In Australia, two in five young people under the age of 24 years currently suffer from a mental health condition.

While antidepressants are widely prescribed for mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, there is extensive variability in patient response and side effects.

Pharmacogenetics (PGx) offers a promising method to improve patient outcomes by tailoring a patient’s prescription based on their ability to metabolise drugs.

Researchers at the Perron Institute collaborated with researchers at The University of Western Australia (UWA), the University of Notre Dame, Murdoch University and the WA Department of Health to explore the use and challenges of PGx testing in treating mental health issues, with a strong focus on youth depression and anxiety. The review paper was published recently in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology.

Joint first authors Bradley Roberts (PhD candidate Perron Institute and UWA) and Zahra Cooper (Perron Institute) stated that the examination of current literature found that understanding a young person’s genetic traits provides the potential to tailor treatment to each individual, reducing side effects and improving treatment outcomes.

“However, there are hurdles to overcome, including a lack of evidence-based guidelines for primary care physicians, limited awareness and experience of general practitioners around genetic intervention, and community concerns around data privacy, equity, and economic value,” Bradley Roberts said.

“By understanding the barriers faced, we are one step closer to giving more young people taking antidepressants for depression and anxiety the opportunity to receive effective care.

“A tailored approach to medication could improve patient outcomes by decreasing adverse drug reactions to antidepressants, increasing their therapeutic effect and giving patients more control over their mental health journey.

“The next step for our research involves further discussions with people with lived experience of mental health and key stakeholders to understand concerns and expectations of genetic testing in clinical practice.

“This will help tailor our research outcomes to the needs of young people experiencing mental ill-health and clinicians at the frontline of mental health care. The goal is to run a pilot clinical trial to measure the effectiveness of PGx testing to guide the prescription and dosage of antidepressants in young people.”

The senior author is Professor Sean Hood (UWA School of Medicine: Psychiatry). Contributing authors also include Stephanie Lu (UWA), Dr Susanne Stanley (UWA), Dr Bernadette Majda (Notre Dame), Dr Khan Collins (WA Dept Health), Associate Professor Lucy Gilkes (Notre Dame and UWA), Associate Professor Jennifer Rodger (Perron Institute and UWA) and Professor Anthony Akkari (Perron Institute and the Centre for Molecular Medicine and Innovative Therapeutics at Murdoch University).

Read the full review paper here.

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