The future of psychiatry is bright, even scintillating. Disruptive changes are gradually unfolding and will proceed at a brisk pace. Psychiatric practice will be transformed into a clinical neuroscience that will heal the mind by repairing the brain. The ingredients of change are already in place, and the trend will accelerate.
Consider the following scientific, technical, and therapeutic advances that will continue to transform the psychiatric practice landscape.
- Pluripotent cells. By dedifferentiating fibroblasts or skin cells and re-differentiating them into neurons and glia, the study of the structure and function of psychiatric patients’ brains can be conducted in a test tube. That will exponentially expand the knowledge of the neural circuitry that underpin psychiatric disorders and will lead to novel strategies for brain repair.1
- CRISPR. This revolutionary advance in excising and inserting genes will eventually lead to the prevention of a psychiatric disease by replacing risk genes or mutations.1
- Molecular genetics. The flurry of identifying risk genes, copy number variants (CNV), and de novo mutations using gene-wide association studies (GWAS) will facilitate gene therapy in psychiatric disorders.
- Neuroimmunology. The discovery of the role of neuroinflammation and oxidative stress (free radicals exceeding glutathione and other antioxidants) in neuropsychiatric disorders will ultimately lead to new insights into preventing the neurodegeneration associated with acute psychotic or mood disorders. Inhibiting the activation of microglia (the immune cells of the brain) is one example of innovative therapeutic targets in the future.2
- Recognizing the role of mitochondrial dysfunction as a pathogenic pathway to neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and even the comorbid diabetes that is common among those psychiatric disorders will chart an entirely new approach to diagnosis and treatment.2
- The role of the microbiota and microbiome in psychiatric disorders has emerged as a fertile new frontier in psychiatry, both for etiology and as therapeutic targets.3
- The enteric brain in the gut, in close proximity with the microbiome, is now known to be a major source of neurotransmitters that modulate brain functions (dopamine, serotonin, and others). Consequently, it is implicated in psychopathology, rendering this “second brain” a target for therapeutic interventions in the future, in addition to the “cephalic brain.”4
- Biomarkers and endophenotypes. The rapid discoveries of biomarkers are setting the stage for the recognition of hundreds of biologic subtypes of complex neuropsychiatric syndromes such as schizophrenia, autism, depression, anxiety, and dementia. Biomarkers will steadily pave the road to precision psychiatry.5,6
- Artificial intelligence is beginning to revolutionize psychiatric practice by identifying psychopathology via voice patterns, facial features, motor activity, sleep patterns, and analysis of writing and language. It will significantly enhance the early detection and diagnosis of neuropsychiatric disorders.7
- Machine learning. As with other medical specialties, this radical and important new technology is likely to generate currently unrecognized information and decision options for psychiatric practitioners in the future.8
- Neuromodulation. The future is already here when it comes to employing neuromodulation as a therapeutic technique in psychiatry. The past was prologue with the discovery of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) 30 years ago, evolving into vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) over the past 2 decades. Their application will go beyond depression into several other psychiatric conditions. A flurry of other neuromodulation techniques are being developed, including cranial electrical stimulation (CES), deep brain stimulation (DBS), epidural cortical stimulation (ECS), focused ultrasound (FUS), low-field magnetic stimulation (LFMS), magnetic seizure therapy (MST), near infrared light therapy (NIR), and transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS).9
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