Researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine have successfully developed a blood test for anxiety. The test examines biomarkers that can help them objectively determine someone’s risk of developing anxiety, the severity of their current anxiety, and which therapies are likely to best treat their anxiety.
Now that the test has been validated by researchers, it is currently being developed by MindX Sciences for wider use by physicians.
Many people suffer from anxiety, which can be very disabling and interfere with daily life. The current approach is to talk to people about how they feel to see if they can take medication, but some medications can be addictive and cause more problems. We wanted to see if our approach to identifying blood biomarkers could help us match people with existing drugs that will work better and could be a non-addictive choice.”
Alexander Niculescu, MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry
Niculescu’s previous research led to the development of blood tests for pain, depression/bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. This latest work, published in molecular psychiatry, uses similar methods for anxiety. The study included three independent cohorts: discovery, validation, and testing. Participants would have a blood test every 3-6 months or whenever a new psychiatric hospitalization occurred. By examining the RNA biomarkers in the blood, researchers were able to identify a patient’s current anxiety state and match it with drugs and nutraceuticals, showing how effective different options can be for them based on their biology.
“In addition to medications, there are other methods of treating anxiety, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or lifestyle changes,” Niculescu said. “But having something objective like this, where we can know what a person’s current condition is, as well as their future risks and what treatment options fit their profile, is very powerful in helping people.”
A person’s biomarkers can also change over time. Niculescu said the test could help evaluate a person’s risk of developing higher levels of anxiety in the future, as well as how other factors may affect their anxiety, such as hormonal changes.
“There are people who have anxiety and it’s not properly diagnosed, then they have panic attacks but think they’re having a heart attack and they’re in the emergency room with all sorts of physical symptoms,” Niculescu said. “If we can know that sooner, hopefully we can prevent this pain and suffering and treat them sooner with something that fits their profile.”
Niculescu said this new test could also be used in conjunction with the other blood tests his research led to, giving a better picture of a patient’s mental health and risk for future mental health problems. Researchers can also use the test to develop new treatments for anxiety that focus more on individual biomarkers.
“This is something that a panel test could be as part of a patient’s regular wellness visits to evaluate their mental health over time and prevent future problems,” Niculescu said. “Prevention is better in the long run, so our goal is to be able to provide patients and their physicians with a comprehensive report with just one vial of blood.”
Indiana University Medical School
Roseberry, K., et al. (2023) Towards precision medicine for anxiety disorders: objective assessment, risk prediction, pharmacogenomics and repurposed drugs. Molecular Psychiatry. doi.org/10.1038/s41380-023-01998-0.