DNA analysis to predict more accurate way of prescribing the right antidepressant

13 Jul 2020 | 2 mins

For many people who take antidepressants, getting the right medication can be difficult with many reporting no long-term benefits from the first medication prescribed, but new research by The University of Western Australia will analyse a person’s DNA to predict the most effective treatment for them.

UWA Professor Sean Hood, Head of Psychiatry at UWA’s Medical School, and Department of Health Office of Population Health Genomics Director Kristen Nowak are part of a new $2.95 million project that will analyse a person’s genetic makeup to determine the best treatment for depression. The funding has been provided through the Commonwealth Government’s Medical Research Future Fund.

The study also involves HBF Health Limited, mental health group Meeting for Minds and the Perron Institute.

Professor Hood said around half of patients with moderate to severe depression did not see a positive result from the first medication prescribed, with as many as two-thirds failing to achieve long-term relief from depression.

“This is really concerning because it can often take weeks or months to get the right medication and dosage for a severely depressed patient and when the right medication is found it can also take weeks or months for it to take effect,” Professor Hood said.

“This is a risky time for severely depressed patients who might have a bad reaction to a medication or become really unwell and require hospitalisation. 

“Many could abandon their medication altogether if it is not effective or worsens their condition, and some may even attempt suicide.”

Professor Hood said it was critical to prescribe the right drugs that were effective from the start.

“It’s very difficult for doctors at the moment because they are needing to make important decisions about what antidepressants to prescribe, without having an understanding of how an individual’s chemistry might react to them,” he said.

The study will enrol 550 patients including 275 from WA. They will be enrolled through two participating local hospitals – Sir Charles Gairdner and Hollywood Private Hospital.

Patients involved in the study will undergo a brain scan and provide a swab via cells collected from inside their cheek. These cells will then be used in a multi-gene test known as a pharmacogenomic (PG) test, which shows the biochemical process that affects the way individuals break down medications.

Patients will be broken down into two groups – a group prescribed medication using the PG test and a control group using standard care regularly used when prescribing medications.

This will allow researchers to assess whether patients whose treatment was guided by their PG test, had experienced significant earlier benefits than those who received standard care.

Professor Hood said PG testing had been available for many years but in the past it had been expensive and involved long turnaround times.

“However, now that PG testing costs have come right down, this could be an effective means for the treatment of depression,” he said.

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