Pharmacogenetic Testing Can Save Lives - By: Dr. Elena Zerpa, DLC Child & Adolescent Staff Psychiatrist

April 4th, 2017

David Lawrence Center has recently added pharmacogenetic testing for our clients, and this innovative tool is already proving extremely helpful.

Let me explain a bit about what this testing is and does. Each of us has a unique genetic makeup. The genes we inherit from our parents not only determine characteristics like eye and hair color, but some genes also determine how our bodies process medications.

With a pharmacogenetic test—which uses either a swab of saliva or a small amount of blood—your genetic makeup will indicate whether or not your body will respond to a specific medication and at what dosage. It will also provide us with more information about potential side effects.

This type of testing works very well with clients for whom our normal procedure for prescribing medications is not working, which can happen for various reasons; or for clients with complex conditions. We can now determine with greater certainty which medications may work best.

For example, one of my clients who recently benefited from pharmacogenetic testing is an eight-year-old boy with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He was not responding to the medications we commonly use for his condition. This test not only identified two medications that would work for him, it also determined that he needed a higher dosage of one medication. Because these medications are now tailored to his genetic makeup and age, he is responding very well.

As pharmacogenetics is a new, pioneering field of medicine, not every medication currently manufactured has yet been added to the list of those with a genetic marker. Fortunately, genetic markers for most of the antidepressants, antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, and ADHD medications we use are available.

Also, since pharmacogenetics is a new field, the costs for these tests are high. However, Medicare and Medicaid will cover most of these costs. Clients with private health insurance will need to check with their provider, and David Lawrence Center administrative staff members are always available to answer any insurance and financial questions.

As a child psychiatrist, I have seen the normal, at times lengthy, trial-and-error process used in determining which medications to prescribe begin to wear on the children I’m treating and their parents. Over time, they often stop trying, lose hope, and discontinue treatment altogether.  This usually results in the child’s condition getting worse, and in many cases can be life-threatening.

Advanced pharmacogenetic testing will not only help save time by minimizing the trial-and-error process of finding the right medications for our clients, especially those with complex and challenging conditions; we know it will help us save lives.

Lab with a pipette in a medical lab

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