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Researchers develop blood test for anxiety

by Vaishali Sharma

Indiana University School of Medicine researchers have successfully developed a blood test for anxiety. The test looks for biomarkers that can help them determine an individual’s risk of developing anxiety, the severity of their current anxiety, and which therapies are likely to treat their anxiety the best.

MindX Sciences is developing the test for wider use by physicians now that it has been validated by researchers.

“Many people are suffering from anxiety, which can be very disabling and interfere with daily life,” said professor of psychiatry Alexander Niculescu, MD, PhD. “The current approach is to talk to people about how they feel to see if they could be on medications, but some medications can be addictive and create more problems. We wanted to see if our approach to identify blood biomarkers could help us match people to existing medications that will work better and could be a non-addictive choice.”

Previous research by Niculescu resulted in the development of blood tests for pain, depression/bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. This latest study, published in Molecular Psychiatry, employs similar techniques to treat anxiety. The research included three distinct cohorts: discovery, validation, and testing. A blood test would be administered to participants every 3-6 months or whenever a new psychiatric hospitalisation occurred. Researchers could identify a patient’s current state of anxiety and match them with medications and nutraceuticals by examining RNA biomarkers in the blood, demonstrating how effective different options could be for them based on their biology.

“In addition to medications, there are other methods to treat anxiety, such as cognitive behavioural therapy or lifestyle changes,” Niculescu said. “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.”

A person’s biomarkers can also change over time. Niculescu said the test can help evaluate a person’s risk of developing higher levels of anxiety in the future as well as how other factors might impact their anxiety, like hormonal changes.

“There are people who have anxiety and it is not properly diagnosed, then they have panic attacks, but think they’re having a heart attack and up in the ER with all sorts of physical symptoms,” Niculescu said. “If we can know that earlier, then we can hopefully avoid this pain and suffering and treat them earlier with something that matches their profile.”

Niculescu said this new test could also be used in combination with the other blood tests his research has led to, providing a more comprehensive view of a patient’s mental health and risk of future mental health concerns. Researchers can also use the test to develop new treatments for anxiety that are more targeted to individual biomarkers.

“This is something that could be a panel test as part of a patient’s regular wellness visits to evaluate their mental health over time and prevent any future distress,” Niculescu said. “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.”

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