Though most people with bipolar disorder can find a medication that will successfully control their illness, frequently many medications must be tried until the best one is found. Since each trial may take weeks to months, this trial and error process can go on for months to sometimes years. During this time, people with bipolar disorder may continue to suffer from manias and depressions. Everyone is different, so not surprisingly, everyone responds differently to medications.

Much of what makes us different from each other is in our genes. Genes are the genetic material we inherit from our mothers and fathers. Differences in genes make some people’s eyes blue and others brown. Differences in genes also influence how someone responds to a medication and which medication is best for them.

Pharmacogenomics is the study of how genes influence people’s response to medications. Some genetic differences may determine whether a drug is effective for a specific person. Others may influence whether someone has side effects or what the right dose should be. The goal of pharmacogenomics is to develop a panel of DNA or genetic tests that will help doctors pick the best medication for each individual patient. This has also been called personalized medicine. Guided by the results of such a test, a doctor may be able to pick the best medication at the beginning, rather than after months or years of trials of different medications.