Researchers have developed a blood test for anxiety that could help determine effective treatments based on biomarkers present in individuals. The corresponding study was published in Molecular Psychiatry.
Anxiety disorders are increasingly common and decrease quality of life. Currently, tests for anxiety generally rely on subjective measures such as psychological evaluations or questionnaires. While these may be effective in diagnosing anxiety, they may be limited in identifying effective treatment options.
In the current study, researchers sought to identify blood biomarkers for anxiety to help match people to effective medications. To begin, they identified blood gene expression changes among individuals with psychiatric disorders between self-reported low and high anxiety states. They then used a genomic approach to prioritize a list of candidate markers.
After validating their biomarkers in an independent cohort of participants with clinically severe anxiety, they tested their biomarkers for clinical utility ie. to predict anxiety severity and future clinical worsening. They found that the biomarkers could accurately predict anxiety levels, especially in women.
In further tests, they identified which of their biomarkers are targets for existing drugs and nutraceuticals- such as omega-3 fatty acids, fluoxetine, and lithium. They hope their findings may be used to better match patients to effective medications.
They also used their biomarker gene expression signature to identify drugs that could be repurposed for anxiety, including estradiol- a female hormone used to reduce symptoms of menopause, and loperamide- an anti-diarrheal medication.
“In addition to medications, there are other methods to treat anxiety, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or lifestyle changes,” Alexander Niculescu, MD, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at Indiana University School of Medicine, one of the study’s authors, said in a press release.
“But having something objective like this where we can know what someone’s current state is as well as their future risk and what treatment options match their profile is very powerful in helping people,” he added.
Given that a person's biomarkers can change over time, Dr. Niculesu noted that the test could become part of a panel test taken on regular wellness visits to evaluate patients' mental health over time and 'prevent any future distress'.
"Prevention is better in the long run, so our goal is to be able to provide a comprehensive report for patients and their physicians using simply one tube of blood,” he concluded.
Sources: Neuroscience News, Molecular Psychiatry