Earlier today, we reported that NIMH-funded researchers at three different genetic research institutes from around the world collaborated and published three new studies yesterday in the journal, Nature, that suggested a true breakthrough in our understanding of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. And to think that just earlier this week, I was dismissing the largely inconclusive findings of genetics research in mental illness.
One of the researchers commented on the findings: “There was substantial overlap in the genetic risk for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder that was specific to mental disorders. We saw no association between the suspect gene variants and half a dozen common non-psychiatric disorders.” This is an important discovery — that some of the roots of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder may be very similar. This may also begin to partially explain why drugs — atypical antipsychotics — developed for schizophrenia also appear to work for bipolar disorder.
Furthermore, all three studies implicated an area of Chromosome 6, which is known to include genes involved in immunity. This area also has genes that seem to control how and when genes turn on and off. As the NIMH notes, this hotspot of association might help to explain how environmental factors affect risk for schizophrenia.
The other important finding from these studies was the huge impact of pooling data and resources in genetic research. Without large data sample sizes, genetics research often ends up at a dead-end. By being able to analyze over 30,000 genetic variants in over 3,000 people with schizophrenia and 3,000 people without, the researchers were able to draw conclusions based upon the data. A smaller sample size would’ve made such conclusions impossible.
Although the vast majority of the genetic causes of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder remain unknown (the current studies could account for only approximately 30 percent of the genetic risk), the current research is an important contribution to our real knowledge of how these disorders may be caused by gene variants. Also, these most recent findings won’t result in any new treatments for the disorders for many years to come. But scientists are truly excited about the findings, a somewhat rare thing when talking about genetics research.
With more genetics research like this underway, I suspect we’ll be seeing more breakthroughs similar to this one in the years to come. These studies inch us closer to understanding some of the potential contributing causes to these conditions, which could one day perhaps pave the way to new treatments for them.
Read the full article: Genetic Breakthrough for Schizophrenia and Bipolar