Image courtesy of Chris Stacey
Image courtesy of Chris Stacey

Genetics guiding anxiety treatment

For years we’ve been identifying genetic markers linked to mental disorders. Now it appears those same markers could also tell us who will best-respond to treatment.

A study of over 1,500 children, as part of the international Genes for Treatment collaboration, found those with a specific genetic marker were more responsive to psychological therapy than those without.

“What these genes are actually predicting is a child’s vulnerability, or environmental sensitivity,” says Professor Jennifer Hudson, an ARC Future Fellow from the Centre for Emotional Health at Macquarie University.

Some children are more adversely affected in a negative environment and may develop an anxiety disorder. But equally, when you put them in a positive environment they improve relatively quickly.

“Six out of 10 kids respond to our conventional cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) treatments, but these results will help us predict who won’t and why, allowing us to tailor treatment to them,” Jennie says.

In Sydney, Jennie’s team is looking for predictive factors and taking genetic samples from 1,200 schoolgirls, as well as examining how effective universal intervention is.

Anxiety is a growing problem in schools with many requests for special consideration at exam time in Year 12.

“Anxiety is a normal emotion, but knowing how to handle it helps you throughout your life,” Jennie says.

Jennie and her collaborators at King’s College in London are also embarking on the first genome-wide study into treatment response in anxiety disorders.

This article appeared in Stories of Australian Science and is republished with permission.