Naked Neuroscience

Naked Neuroscience episode

Thu, 20th Mar 2014

Genetic tests for psychiatry?

Depression (c) Hendrike

Why are some psychiatric illnesses, like anxiety and depression, on the increase? Could conditions, like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, confer an evolutionary advantage? And is it ethical to screen babies for future brain conditions? We report from the Cambridge Neuroscience Seminar.

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In this edition of Naked Neuroscience

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  • 00:00 - At Risk of Mental Illness?

    Could genetic tests help diagnose people who are at risk of developing psychiatric conditions and catch them before they are ill?

  • 15:10 - The Brain Prize!

    Professor Trevor Robbins, has just been announced as one of the winners of the Grete Lundbeck Brain Prize for 2014.

  • 21:49 - Brain Highlights

    We uncover decision making in OCD, the teenage brain and how Kings Cross relates to our thinking networks...



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Certainly in fiction, some mental disorders are portrayed as conferring an "advantage", at least to some individuals. 

For example the show "Perception" shows an schizophrenic that uses insights from his disorder both in teaching as well as crime solving.  "Monk" is portrayed potentially with Asperger's syndrome, although perhaps not mentioned overtly.  Yet his "condition" helps with his work.

The "Speed of the Dark" is a futuristic sci-fi novel where autistic spectrum disorder benefits individuals for various analytic jobs. 

There are certainly many high level current and historical individuals who likely had Asperger's syndrome that benefited their careers including Einstein as well as prominent artists and musicians.

Undoubtedly some mental disorders can confer hardship on individuals.  However, it also becomes a core aspect of their personality which the actual individual may not desire to "give up".

ADHD is often "treated", yet could potentially help with split attention tasks.  Perhaps there would be a method to approach it with specific training rather than medications.

There are many people with mental disorders or deficits that are contributing members of society.

Anyway, one may choose to terminate pregnancies of some individuals with serious deficits, but if one excludes every single possible disorder, then there may not be any "normal" fetuses left.  And, we may not wish to have a society where everyone is just average. CliffordK, Thu, 20th Mar 2014

I dont see how that could work/help (re: O.P. - Could genetic tests help diagnose people who are at risk of developing psychiatric conditions and catch them before they are ill?)

Without getting too in depth, if you consider the genetic/social stand point, you would have to test everyone when they were babies or small children. In most cases of people who develop mental health disorders, symptoms start showing around the teens, especially in people who misuse illegal substances. If there is any kind of abuse involved, its usually at a lower age.

What would happen then? You tell the parent s of the children involved to be more careful?

I dont think Ive ever seen a single patient who just mysteriously developed a mental health disorder with no social problems in their history.

I could be wrong but about this 'genetic predisposition'.  Youve got two types of people;

A/ Those who are more likely to X
B/ Those who are not more likely to X

B people who are in the wrong social setting, can still X.
A people in the wrong social setting will X but its worse.
B people in a good environment are unlikely to X
A people in the right social environment are less likely to X

You can replace X with anything - for example 'become obese if they over eat', develop depression/anxiety if they are over stressed'. eternity, Fri, 21st Mar 2014

I disagree. 
The mental health disorder may in fact create the social issues rather than visa-versa. 

Some genetic issues such as trisomy 21 (Downs Syndrome) have been well documented. 

However, early diagnosis of less obvious disorders may help with socialization and removing or preventing some of their symptoms.  An Asperger's kid may have special training on socialization.  One may choose special training and monitoring of narcissistic or antisocial children to prevent the development of disruptive behavior.

One can't necessarily make every family into an "ideal" family.  But it may help to identify those that  need a little extra help. CliffordK, Fri, 21st Mar 2014

Point taken, however the thread I was replying to (the original heading before the two were merged) was specifically;

'Could genetic tests help diagnose people who are at risk of developing psychiatric conditions and catch them before they are ill?'

'Catch them before they are ill' would suggest that it is psychiatric disorder (for example borderline personality disorder or bi-polar) that develops throughout a persons life, rather than a genetic disorder you are born with.

Your examples were Downs syndrome or Aspergers. Downs syndrome for example is caused by an extra chromosome which can be detected during pregnancy. Schizophrenia and depression can not.

eternity, Fri, 21st Mar 2014

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