Genetic Markers in Mental Illness--A New Era of Predictive Screening

Genetic Identification Promises Individually-tailored Treatments

Julia Krestow, BSc MSc

Mental illness is a term describing a group of disorders, all of which profoundly affect an individual's ability to think, feel, and act, and which result in a substantially diminished capa-city to cope with the ordinary demands of life. Mental illness can strike irrespective of age, gender, or race.1 Although mental disorders were recognized as illnesses in the mid-18th century, suspicion and fear often overshadowed understanding. Gradually, advances in the fields of psychiatry, behavioural science, neuroscience, biology, and genetics have replaced trepidation with knowledge. Some common mental illnesses are schizophrenia, bipolar affective disorder and depression.

Researchers and clinicians have worked for decades to reduce the suffering of those with disabling disorders, and current treatments can alleviate symptoms for many. Unfortunately, there is no curative treatment, and the treatments which do exist can have side effects. Research has long shown that the risk of developing mental illness increases if another family member is similarly affected; this suggests a strong hereditary component. Exciting developments in molecular genetics and the neurosciences explain the cautious optimism in terms of insight gained into the causes of mental disorders.