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Start-Up Creating Blood Tests, Apps for Mental Disorders

Blood sample tubes


3 July 2019. A new enterprise based on psychiatric and molecular research at Indiana University is developing precision-medicine diagnostics for pain and mental disease. MindX Sciences in Indianapolis licenses technology from the lab of Indiana psychiatry professor Alexander Niculescu, a co-founder of the company.

Niculescu’s Neurophenomics lab at Indiana’s medical school studies genetic variations associated with mental states and blood biomarkers indicating psychiatric disorders, to provide actionable insights for clinicians in their treatments for patients. In February and March of this year, Niculescu and colleagues published findings from their research on blood biomarkers in the journal Molecular Psychiatry to objectively diagnose pain and stress disorders respectively to help prescribe more targeted drugs. In both studies, the researchers recruited patients at a local veterans’ hospital and identified currently available medications that match the biomarkers revealed from the blood tests for treating their conditions.

Based on these and other findings from the lab, MindX Sciences aims to provide more objective evidence for pain and psychiatric disorders to guide treatment decisions. This approach is similar to precision medicine for cancer and other diseases guided by biomarkers identified through genetic testing. Too often, says the company, physicians today are limited to subjective, simplistic paper-and-pencil scales to judge a person’s pain or mental condition.

“A doctor shows you a happy-to-sad face scale and asks you to rate your pain, and then they observe you,” says R. Matthew Neff, co-founder, and CEO of MindX in an Indiana University statement. “That’s it. They can’t tell the magnitude of the pain because it’s a very personal, subjective experience.”

And the need for better diagnostics and treatments is increasing, says Niculescu, also the company’s chief scientist. “Suicide is a growing epidemic, and so are pain and opioids,” he notes. “PTSD is under-diagnosed and under-treated in both civilian and military populations. One in four people will suffer from depression in their lifetime.”

MindX is developing a three-part evaluation and diagnostic process to assess pain and psychiatric conditions. The company is writing apps to more objectively screen for the extent of pain being experienced by patients, as well as symptoms of mental health issues, including suicide risk, post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, and depression. Those initial assessments are supplemented with blood tests to reveal biomarkers showing precise molecular indicators of psychiatric conditions to help clinicians identify precise treatments and other therapies for the individual patient. Further blood tests can then track a patient’s condition, and guide changes in treatments over time.

The company expects to have its first blood tests to assess pain and suicide risk available for limited access in the next year. Wider access to the first blood tests and further tests to cover more conditions are planned for the following two years.

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