Treating Child Anxiety with Precision Medicine

Precision medicine – the approach to personalizing medical care by looking at biological as well as personal and environmental factors to predict which treatments will be most effective for a particular individual – is increasingly used to treat genetic diseases and cancer. But what if that scientific approach could be used to treat mental illness? Would it improve outcomes?

Research from Yale’s Child Study Center have found that it can, indeed, and a team of physicians and researchers are now using precision medicine to treat anxiety in children. In a recent clinical trial, they looked at two forms of treatment for childhood anxiety. One, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (often called CBT), involves one-on-one therapy to help a child learn new ways to solve problems; it has been the gold standard for anxiety treatment in children to date. Now, the care team at the Yale Child Study Center has developed a new approach to treating children with anxiety that is done completely with the parent of the anxious child. This innovative parental approach aims to provide caregivers with better tools to alleviate and manage the child’s symptoms.

The researchers’ aim was not to compare the efficacy of these treatments, but to evaluate which form of therapy would work better for each individual patient. The study used brain scans and hormonal testing as well as other measures to track how children responded.

In this video, Eli Lebowitz, PhD, along with Yaara Shimshoni, PhD and Dylan Gee, PhD explain why this study has been a revolutionary first step in changing the way childhood mental illness is treated.