The way in which autism, ADHD, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and schizophrenia are diagnosed and treated could be set to change forever, following a major study published today in Lancet, the medical journal.
While an analysis of each of these five conditions would show us that they share a number of common characteristics and treatment options, until now scientists remained unaware of any evidence that they were linked in any other way. However, it has now been discovered that versions of four specific genes increases the chances that someone will develop one of these conditions at any point in their lifetime.
This study was driven by a desire throughout the world of medicine to move dealing with psychiatric conditions much more towards understanding and dealing directly with what is physically happening in the brain, rather than treat symptoms, which is how most psychiatric conditions are diagnosed, identified, and dealt with currently.
The genetic codes of over 60,000 people were studied, with 33,000 of those having been diagnosed with one of the disorders we listed. Two of the four gene variants that were identified were directly linked to the balance of calcium in the brain. While this in itself is not especially groundbreaking given that we know lithium salts are prescribed for bipolar disorder and other conditions, that is has been linked across such a large sample of people represents a major step forward in the treatment of psychological disorders.
Although hundreds of genes are thought to play a role in the development of psychological illnesses, advances in medical research mean that scientists are able to focus much more specifically on particular genes in terms of what causes them to malfunction. While today’s report is the first step on a long road to changing how physicians deal with mental illness, it could be the catalyst for the real change in the diagnosis and treatment of such conditions, and would be the first major development to occur in this field in many years.
Nick Craddock, of Cardiff University in the United Kingdom, one of the researchers who carried out the international study, stated, “It signals the opening of a potential new era for psychiatry and mental illness.
“This is a scientific method that helps understand what is going wrong in the brain, the chemicals, [and] the brain systems that are important in illness.”
What Does It Mean?
If you are suffering from one of these five conditions today, then the report is probably not going to have a profound impact on your treatment in the near future, although there are many studies and trials taking place with the aim of better understanding mental illness.
In the longer term, it could mean quicker and more accurate diagnosis from physicians, and importantly, could lead to the correct combination of medications being identified and prescribed sooner, enabling individuals to make positive steps in dealing with their condition easier than they ever had before.
How mental illness is identified and dealt with could be about to change forever, and this represents an exciting, pioneering period in medical history.