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Fishing In The Stream Of Ambitions, Profiteering, and Genomic Research

Biological psychiatry is abuzz with news of 2 big research studies recently undertaken. HealthCanal.com ran a story on these studies bearing the heading, Researchers in ‘most powerful genetic studies of psychosis to date’. These studies involved some 50,000 patient volunteers.

The problem with some of these mad gene chases, and these two studies are a case in point, is the presumption that often underlies the whole undertaking.

Professor David Collier from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, who was involved in both studies says: ‘Although we have known that psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder have a strong genetic basis, it has proven very difficult to identify the genetic risk factors involved. This is because the causes of these illnesses are highly complex, with many different genes and environmental factors involved. In order to try and solve this puzzle, hundreds of scientists researching schizophrenia have pooled their research results resulting in a major and unprecedented research cooperation, involving tens of thousands of volunteer patients.’

Psychiatry is not hard science. These researchers are not actually searching for a mad gene, or even cluster of genes according to the revised theory, they are actually searching for a propensity to go mad gene. This means that a large number of the people with these genes are not going to go mad at all. It also makes the search much more elusive than it would be if there was, let us say, a mad gene. I imagine one could say that the search for the proverbial needle in a haystack would be as productive as any ole’ mad gene hunt.

We have known belongs to the province of religion. We have known because the good book tells us so for instance. We have known doesn’t mean we have proven or we have disproven, the objective of scientific research, anything. The scientific method is not nearly so self-assured, valuing independence of mind and, in particular, skepticism quite highly. If we know then why are we conducting research? We should be conducting this research precisely because we don’t know, because we are unsure, but I suspect something else is going on here, and I will presently indicate what that something may consist in.

‘Our findings are a significant advance in our knowledge of the underlying causes of psychosis – especially in relation to the development and function of the brain. Unraveling the biology of these disorders brings great hope for the development of new therapies – we can attempt to develop therapeutic drugs which target the molecules in the brain involved in the development of psychosis.’ [Emphasis added.]

Funny that these new therapies should translate into chemical compounds, and that these chemical compounds should be making mega-bucks on the stock exchange. I’m talking drugs here, or the researcher’s chemical oil field. Since drugs have been the primary modality of treatment for psychosis since the mid 1950s, I don’t see what the heck is so new about this therapy at all. Drugs are rapidly becoming the only kind of therapy that psychiatrists permit and that their clients receive. If psychosis is not as biologically determined as theory would have it, then perhaps a drug is not the only way to fix it. My suspicion is that this kind of research is tainted by serious conflict of interest issues from the get go.