A simple blood test for Panic Disorder is being commercially developed by the University of Iowa. The test is based on research by Robert Philibert and others at the University’s Carver College of Medicine. The study was funded in part by grants from the National Institutes of Health.
Philibert states that:
The ability to test for panic disorder is a quantum leap in psychiatry… Panic disorder will no longer be a purely descriptive diagnosis, but, as with cystic fibrosis, Down syndrome and other conditions, a diagnosis based on genetic information… In addition, the finding could help us better understand the pathways that initiate, promote and maintain panic disorder.
The study, published in the online version of the American Journal of Medical Genetics, were based on the analysis of genetic information in immature white blood cells. Although Panic Disorder is a disease of the brain cells, they are not accessible or easily tested. The study used lymphoblasts (immature cells) as “stand-ins” for brain cells.
Philibert and his associates are hopeful that this Panic Disorder blood test will lead to simple tests for other mental conditions.
Mental disorder blood tests raise larger questions
While a blood test for Panic Disorder might seem to be all good news, it does raise larger questions about how information revealed by such tests will be used. How patient medical records can be used by employers, insurers and others are a concern, Philibert said. He adds:
Science is like a hammer. You can use it to build a house or break a window. We certainly intend for this finding to help people manage their disease, and when possible, to prevent it from affecting their lives. [I]t could help us identify systems that interact with the environment and possibly lead the way to new, even non-drug, therapies to prevent illness.
How will this information be used, especially if it is online?
With the bringing of medical records online, the privacy of people’s medical information is an issue that is just now being addressed. Google’s Health online database and MicroSoft’s HealthVault are now in beta (preliminary public) testing. They combine patient-entered information with other sources such as doctors and drugstores.
The promise of portable online medical information that can be accessed by doctors, hospitals and its owners is a bright dream surrounded by dark clouds. How will these records be kept from prying eyes? How long will it be before potential employers, insurance companies, and the government find a way to access them, too?
What is your opinion of this new Panic Disorder test and the implications of widespread availability of what are now private medical records? As always, your comments count!
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Cheng, Jacqui (2007, October 6). Microsoft wants your health care records, trust. Retrieved June 25, 2008, from ars technica. Web site: http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20071006-microsoft-wants-your-health-care-records-trust.html
Cheng, Jacqui (2008, May 19). Google Health beta launches with security issues looming. Retrieved June 25, 2008, from ars technica. Web site: http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20080519-google-health-beta-launches-with-security-issues-looming.html
Nauert, Rick (2007, March 6). Blood Test for Panic Disorder. Retrieved June 25, 2008, from PsychCentral News. Web site: http://psychcentral.com/news/2007/03/06/blood-test-for-panic-disorder/666.html
University of Iowa (2007, March 6). Blood Tests May Be Possible For Mental Health Conditions. Retrieved June 25, 2008, from The University of Iowa News Services. Web site: http://www.news-releases.uiowa.edu/2007/march/030607panic-disorder.html