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Translating Psychiatric Genetic Information

Clinician Support
01.22.2021

Psychiatric disorders are a major burden to many. And, unfortunately, the communication of psychiatric genetic information into clinical care is lacking. A current study aims to identify and summarize the bottleneck in communication via a robust literature review and offer solutions for how to move forward.

Translating Psychiatric Genetic Information

Psychiatric genetic research consists of a range of information on psychiatric disorders – from genomic markers to family history. Successful clinical care for psychiatric disorders primarily relies on behavioral and medical therapies. Using psychiatric genetic information would significantly add to these options by complementing both. For example, robust family history and being able to calculate the family density of a disorder could help patients better understand and take ownership (or relinquish guilt) over their disorder. It remains to be seen exactly how such information will impact clinical care and patients’ behaviors, but research teams are prepared to do this work.

Psychiatric Genetic Information Translational Bottlenecks

Four bottlenecks were identified in the study. If these bottlenecks are corrected then the valuable translation of psychiatric genetic information into clinical care may begin to occur more systematically, comprehensively and frequently.

The bottlenecks were as follows:

  1. Emphasizing linear translational frameworks: In other words, existing studies that discussed translating psychiatric genetic information followed rigid steps. A suggested solution was to incorporate translational frameworks that are non-linear and ecological in nature and focus on the integration of multiple stakeholder groups (e.g., Dissemination and Implementation Science). 
  2. Relying on molecular genomic information: There was a disproportionate reliance on molecular genomic information that comes from saliva or blood. While informative, there are other sources of psychiatric genetic information that are non-invasive, such as family history or population-level heritability estimates, that have been associated with positive outcomes in some clinical settings. A suggested solution was therefore to investigate how to translate non-molecular information, which may be easier and faster to do. 
  3. Prioritizing certain psychiatric disorders: There was a tendency to study the translation of schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorder, and mood disorders, which limits the reach of this body of work. A suggested solution was to examine translating psychiatric genetic information for a wider range of psychiatric disorders including anxiety disorders, alcohol and substance use disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, comorbid disorders, and others. 
  4. Publishing more reviews than experiments: It was revealed through the literature review that even though there are a lot of experimental (e.g., test a hypothesis that group A that receives psychiatric genetic information in their care will have better outcomes than group B that does not receive the same information) studies, most are reviews. This means that much of the research on translating psychiatric genetic information are syntheses of existing work instead of original work. A suggested solution was not only for research and clinical teams to conduct more experimental research in this field, but for such research to be supported through funding efforts. 

Translating Psychiatric Genetic Information

It is possible to translate psychiatric genetic information into clinical care for psychiatric disorders sooner rather than later. Correcting the highlighted bottlenecks will, undoubtedly, improve patient outcomes in treatment. This will require concerted efforts by many stakeholders involved in clinical care, from funders to administrators. The burden must not simply fall to researchers and clinicians to study how best to translate psychiatric genetic information into clinical care. 

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