From the Lab to the Couch: Personalized Psychiatry in the Genomic Era
Last spring, my half-sister Michele called me concerned about her 21-year-old daughter’s mental health, as she’d had several bouts of depression and it appeared another one was coming on. This time, Michele was eager to get in touch with her daughter’s therapist before their next meeting. She had some new—and potentially treatment-altering—information.
“Her tests came back,” Michele told me. “Turns out she’s got a MTHFR-gene mutation. We’re waiting to find out which kind.” This was not a conversation anyone would have had 10 years ago, and it’s not one that many are having now. But if personalized, gene-based medicine keeps expanding into the brain sciences, it might be.
Michele, who works as a medical researcher in Australia, may know more than the average parent about the potential of genetics in treating psychiatric conditions. She had read studies that a mutation in the MTHFR gene may increase the risk of psychiatric disorders. Depending on the variation of the mutation, it could also signify which medications are most useful—with some studies recommending folate supplements instead of, or in addition to, antidepressants.