Small differences in genes are what make humans unique and different from each other including our physical outward appearance. Differences in genes also impact our health, risk for disease and our response to certain treatments or therapies. Variance in genetics may explain why one person is more susceptible to a disease than another person, or why a medication works for one person but not another.
Personalized medicine focuses on how differences in genetics impact how a medication is absorbed, metabolized and used by the body. Personalized medicine offers better diagnosis, earlier intervention, and selection of more effective therapies. Understanding of the link between genetics and disease may result in therapies that are personalized to meet the unique needs of individual patients.
Gene research offers hope for treating depression
Personalized medicine is a new way of thinking about medicine. It involves the identification of genes that predict the response of a patient to a medication. It may become possible to use genetic information and gene tests to help select antidepressant therapy.
One example of this would be the gene that affects the availability of serotonin in the brain (serotonin transporter gene) and the likelihood of developing depression when faced with severe stress. If you have the more active form of this gene, you’re less likely to develop depression even if you find yourself in a stressful situation. However, if you have the more active form of this gene and do become depressed, you’re more likely to get better if you take a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant like Prozac® (fluoxetine), Paxil® (paroxetine), or Celexa® (citalopram).*
For several years, it’s been known that patients with the more active form of the serotonin transporter gene are more likely to respond to SSRI treatment. However, it’s only been possible to test patients to see whether they have a more or less active form of this gene for the past three years. Based on the results of this gene test, a psychiatrist is now able to develop a better understanding of what the chances would be for a patient to achieve good results. One of the goals of gene testing is simply to be able to identify an effective antidepressant medication more quickly. Another goal would be to avoid side effects by selecting the right antidepressant therapy.
For many of individuals struggling with depression, the fact that there are now many researchers working to better understand antidepressant medication response should provide some hope.
* Prozac® is a registered trademark of Eli Lilly and Company. Paxil® is a registered trademark of GlaxoSmithKline. Celexa® is a registered trademark of Forest Laboratories, Inc.