Debate: Marked for Life: Are Genetic Markers Helpful in Understanding Psychological Disorders?

Progress Educational Trust
Royal Society of Medicine, 1 Wimpole Street, London W1G 0AE, UK
11 January 2010 – 6.30pm-8pm

An evening debate organised by the charity that publishes BioNews, the Progress Educational Trust (PET), in collaboration with the Royal Society of Medicine and supported by the Wellcome Trust. The event forms part of a broader PET project entitled Spectrum of Opinion: Genes, Autism and Psychological Spectrum Disorders, which was launched at the Houses of Parliament in 2009.

The event is free to attend, but advance booking is required. If you email Sandy Starr at sstarr@progress.org.uk then he will add you to the attendee list.

By the end of 2008, genome-wide association studies of autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder and schizophrenia in 80,000 subjects and 40billion total genotypes were said to constitute the largest biological experiment ever conducted in psychiatry. Since then, a massive international project has set out to coordinate this growing wealth of genetic data. The first batch of analyses resulting from this work identified several significant common genetic variations associated with schizophrenia, and further findings are expected in 2010. Elsewhere, a ‘transcriptional atlas of human brain development’ is being created to understand patterns of gene expression relevant to mental health.

What, if anything, does such genetic and epigenetic research mean for those with psychological disorders, their families and their carers? How does the heritability of these conditions relate to genetic, environmental and stochastic (random) factors? Can society’s contribution to psychological disorders be usefully captured by categories such as ‘gene’ and ‘environment’, or does it need to be considered separately? If you are found to have ‘the gene for’ a disorder (as the popular expression has it), does this effectively mean you are marked for life?

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