Avera Medical Minute AMcK: Personalized medicine for behavioral health patients

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To many questions in life the answer is right in front of you. You just have to look closely; sometimes very closely. Doctors at Avera are looking at a patient's most basic instruction manual to find the best way to deliver treatment.

It's got a name that sounds like a typewriter threw-up, but pharmacogenomics is far more than a bunch of letters

"In layman's terms it's a study of how our bodies process the medications and it's all based on the genetics of the DNA that you get from mom and dad." said pharmacist Krista Bohlen, the Director of Personalized Pharmaceutical Medicine at the Avera Institute for Human Genetics.

Pharmacogenomics has been in research since 2009 but has recently been brought to the clinical forefront. Now by studying a patient's genetic makeup, doctors can determine the best medications and correct dosage for that specific patient.

"It will help us to determine how you metabolize the drug, and which is a drug that your body will handle well or possibly won't handle at all." Dr. Matthew Stanley, a psychiatrist at Avera Behavioral Health.

Pharmacogenomics isn't a complete unraveling of your DNA but what it does is give doctors a snapshot on how your genes affect your liver metabolism. Have a fast metabolism and you may not feel the drug's benefit. Have a slow metabolism and you may over-react to even the smallest dose. It's knowledge that can benefit patients across the board, but where there is tremendous value is in behavioral health.

We struggle with a lot of trial and error in psychiatry so one of the things that pharmacogenetics does is it really focuses in on that particular individual's needs in terms of what medication will work well in their system and they can tolerate it." said Dr. Stanley.

In the past patients would sometimes have to cycle through weeks of trying different medications until they found one that actually treated their condition and didn't carry significant side effects. Whereas now a simple genetic panel can reveal a clearer path to treatment.

"So with this we can tailor to what the patient is actually going to hopefully find a treatment success sooner and avoid some of those adverse effects." said Bohlen.

Genetic screening is quickly becoming commonplace in every aspect of medicine. While the story on pharmacogenomics is not completely written, the early results are definitely promising.

"As far as we have come in behavioral health this is still kind of the last great frontier and pharmacogenetics is one of those areas that's going to continue to bring interesting treatments and interesting information able to the table." said Dr. Stanley.

The cost for this type of genetic testing has come down significantly in the past few years and is covered by many insurance providers. For more information about this story and other genetic testing just call 877-AT-AVERA.