This evening debate was organised by the Progress Educational Trust (PET) in partnership with the Royal Society of Medicine, and was supported by the Wellcome Trust. A video recording of the event is available on the Royal Society of Medicine website. The event formed part of the PET project Spectrum of Opinion: Genes, Autism and Psychological Spectrum Disorders, and a synopsis of the proceedings forms part of the School Resource Pack created by PET as part of this project.
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?
Are genetic markers helpful in understanding psychological disorders?
By Sandy Starr (Communications Officer at PET)
Gene-ecology interactions and psychological disorders
By Dr Tom Dickins (Reader in Evolutionary Psychology at the University of East London's School of Psychology and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Evolutionary Psychology) and Sima Sandhu (Graduate Teaching Assistant and PhD Student at the University of East London's School of Psychology)
Are there 'genes for' traits?
By John Dupré (Professor of Philosophy of Science at the University of Exeter and Director of the Economic and Social Research Council's Centre for Genomics in Society)
By Helen Keeler (author and actress)
From PET's BioNews website
On display, left to right:
Photograph by Lahiru Dayananda