Scientists are tapping individuals’ genetic profiles to learn which patients will respond to antipsychotic medication for schizophrenia.
The pursuit is part of a global shift toward precision medicine—diagnosing and treating illnesses based on a person’s unique genetic makeup. Tailoring psychiatric treatment to individual patients is a critical thread. In the case of schizophrenia, for example, around 30 percent of patients do not respond to antipsychotics. Identifying those patients proactively can prevent them from suffering harmful side effects.
An international team of researchers recently assessed 510 individuals who had experienced psychosis for the first time, measuring symptoms of schizophrenia before and after 12 weeks of antipsychotic medication. The scientists also calculated each patient’s polygenic risk score for schizophrenia—a predictor based on one’s personal DNA sequence. They discovered that polygenic risk scores were linked to how well a patient responded to antipsychotic medication: Lower scores predicted a more successful outcome for three of the four patient groups.
“This will move us toward using risk scores as a tool to predict how responsive patients in a clinic will be to antipsychotics,” says James Kennedy, an expert in pharmacogenetics at the University of Toronto who was not involved in the study. “If the patient is predicted to be a very poor responder, they might get referred to a different kind of treatment, like transcranial magnetic stimulation.”
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