The future of anxiety treatments could go the way of oncology and cardiology, as scientists inch closer to treating the condition using precision medicine — drug treatments that are specifically tailored to one’s genetic and biochemical profile. Anxiety is notoriously hard to treat using standard therapies, but a precision medicine approach promises to actually work.
But to know what genes to target using precision medicine, you have to know where to look. In the largest genetics study of its kind to date, scientists reveal regions in the human genome that appear directly related to anxiety risk — five are found in the genomes of Americans of European descent, and one in black Americans.
The findings were published this week in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Inverse says.
The researchers used data from nearly 200,000 participants in the United States’ Million Veteran Program — one of the world’s largest genetic biobanks. Daniel Levey, a postdoctoral associate at Yale School of Medicine and co-lead author of the study, described the dataset as “one of the greatest resources in the world for conducting this kind of research.”
Levey tells Inverse that the study identifies the locations in the genome where genetic variation is common in most people. In turn, people who have variation in these locations have increased risk for anxiety symptoms.
But there’s a chance that people at a higher genetic risk for anxiety will not develop the disorder, Levey says.
“Genetics are an important piece of the puzzle for understanding human health, but they are not fate,” Levey says. “The variants we identified are responsible for an increase in overall risk, but that genetic risk interacts with other environmental and lifestyle factors.”