An unprecedently large genetic study of schizophrenia has linked a bunch of new genes to this confusing ailment. This’ll take years, decades maybe, to sort out, partly because if you repeated the study with a different set of 36,989 people, you might find a different set of 80 genes associated.
NIMH director Tom Insel says this and a similar finding about autism “place these disorders squarely in the field of complex genetic disorders, in which scores or hundreds of variants, both common and rare, contribute to risk.”
John Williams, the head of neurocience and mental health for the Wellcome Trust, says this study reminds us that psychiatric genetics is still feeling its way around in the dark..
What this research screams to me is how little we know about schizophrenia, and how far we are from biological tests and treatments for mental health disorders compared to other major diseases. We now know there are 128 different genes spread across the genome, some with stronger effects than others, with not every gene present in every schizophrenia patient. The number of possible gene combinations is a complicated enough tangle of causation and background noise to understand – but genetics is not the only factor we need to take into account. It is well established that there are multiple environmental and social causes of mental illness, demonstrated by countless studies. Socio-economic status, stress levels, family environment and drug abuse have all been shown to be important triggers.… Any one patient might have one of thousands of possible combination of genes which leads to greater susceptibility to the illness, plus a handful of environmental risk factors.
What is clear is that the answer to schizophrenia and all mental health illnesses…will not be found in genetic analysis alone.