When I tell people I’m a psychiatric and addictions advanced practice nurse, they are a bit surprised after I share with them my family origins. You see, I come from multiple generations of pharmacists, dating back to the turn of the 20th century when my great grandfather patented medicines around the world and maintained company with the founding fathers of Eli Lilly and Johnson & Johnson. My grandfathers, on both sides of my family, my parents, and numerous aunts and uncles also studied and practiced pharmacy.
Nevertheless, I ultimately decided my career path would include a deep understanding and respect for the role of the pharmacist, but I wanted to practice nursing and provide care to patients with psychiatric and substance use disorders. As an advanced practice nurse, I was able to incorporate prescribing into my practice as a master clinician in psychopharmacology.
My extensive connection to pharmacy and pharmaceutical agents, and psychotropic medications in particular, is why I have embraced pharmacogenetic testing for patients who present with complex diagnostic issues and for whom various trials of medications have failed to provide symptom relief and emotional stability.
Genomind’s Genecept Assay is a simple, in-office, cheek swab-based test that I offer to patients to assist with personalizing their psychopharmacological regimen; it’s painless and easy to perform. The assay explores key pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic genes, which affect how the patient’s body may metabolize medications and the potential impact the medication may have on the body. This information provides an understanding of whether a drug is likely to either work properly or produce adverse effects for a patient before he or she even tries it. The details provided by the assay also offer insights into the dosing of medications and potential drug-to-drug interactions based on their metabolism by the various CYP450 system enzymes located in the liver.
With this information, along with the patient’s symptom presentation; medical, psychiatric, and substance use histories; family history; and medication (including over-the-counter and supplemental medications) history, I am able to narrow down the pharmacological treatment options so patients can feel better, faster.
In 93% of patient cases, the Genecept Assay influenced clinicians’ decisions about medications. It helps reduce the trial-and-error approach, time, expense and struggle of finding the right treatment options. I think the results of the assay are especially helpful for patients who are frustrated after multiple medication failures when trying to find a medicine to alleviate their symptoms. As a clinician, the more information I have in my toolbox when working with a patient, the better.
An example of the beneficial results received as a result of using genetic testing occurred when I treated a woman who was in her early 60s and who said she had suffered from a lifetime of depression, dating back to her early childhood. The genetic testing helped me realize she was suffering from low dopamine levels, our pleasure enhancing and energizing neurochemical located in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the area responsible for executive functioning, including motivation, attention, concentration and organization. This was an ah-ha moment for both my patient and me, as it explained why so many past trials of medications were either ineffective or contributed to adverse side effects.
Based on the results of the Genecept Assay and my patient’s history, I prescribed a psychostimulant, typically reserved for the treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Once dosed to the appropriate level with guidance from the pharmacokinetic results of the assay, it revolutionized her life; the depression lifted and her quality of life improved dramatically for the first time she could recall. Now, at the age of 70, she remains free of depression and is catching up on the life that depression stole from her for so many years.
An important point to emphasize is that the test is neither directive nor diagnostic. For those prescribing advanced practice nurses and other clinicians who may feel challenged by interpreting the results of genetic testing, I can assure you it’s well within your ability to do so and that the companies who offer the testing have extensive clinical support teams to guide you through the results and pharmacological decision-making process. I will also point out that genetic testing to personalize medication decisions is not a new science, as oncology clinicians have been utilizing such reports for years to personalize chemotherapy regimens for their patients.
As health care and the disciplines of psychiatry and addictions continue to evolve, personalized medicine will become more and more the norm. Advanced practice nurses have an opportunity to serve in a critical and leading role during this emerging period by adding pharmacogenetic testing to assist in streamlining psychotropic medication options for their patients. Genetic testing is one of the keys to unlock the mysteries of prescribing psychotropic medications and should be added to the clinician’s arsenal of clinical tools in order to to maximize improvement in symptom relief and quality of life for our patients.