Decades-Long Quest to Uncover Schizophrenia Genes Ends in Disappointment

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E. Fuller Torrey

E. Fuller Torrey, a renowned schizophrenia scholar, has written a groundbreaking paper in Psychiatric Research challenging the genetic perspective of many years’ works trying to identify one or more genes that cause schizophrenia.

Torrey reviews the history of the Human Genome Project and is disappointed by the lack of progress and no substantive genetic results on schizophrenia.

Torrey’s Disagreement with Genetic Studies

Torrey, who is a psychiatrist as well as being the founder of the controversial Stanley Medical Research Institute which has put huge amounts of money into biological studies about schizophrenia, argues against the popular view about genetics and schizophrenia.

In addition, even after National Institute of Mental Health spent nearly $8 billion on genetic research, there was no single gene causally linked to schizophrenia according to Torrey. He also points out that this extensive genetic research has produced no new treatments.

Human Genome Project and Great Expectations

The Human Genome Project is a late 1900s venture that was supposed to unravel all the heresies about genes behind various disorders including Schizophrenia.

Throughout his account, Torrey explains the personal connections Charles Delisi, James Watson and Senator Pete Domenici had with schizophrenic members in their families or themselves.

However, despite mapping over 20K human genes at a cost of $2.7 billion, it proved futile in terms of any promised breakthroughs for treating mental diseases like schizophrenia but based on genes.

Genetic Studies – Being Unsuccessful

Torrey emphasizes how genetic studies have repeatedly failed to show which specific genes are associated with schizophrenia.

He points out that supposedly ground-breaking findings have not been replicated and that they follow a pattern where initial excitement ends up being turned into disappointment later on.

Each kind of genetic study such as linkage analysis candidate gene studies genome wide association studies (GWAS) did not go beyond revealing anything significant regarding what causes schizophrenia genetically.

Environmental Causes Vis-à-vis Methodological Limitations

This paper questions the assumption that familial occurrence of schizophrenia is purely genetic.

Torrey suggests that studies claiming to have heritability are fundamentally flawed, as they commonly miss environmental factors like trauma or child abuse that occur within families too.

On the other hand, through modern research, he contradicts earlier twin and sibling studies which showed a strong genetic link to schizophrenia.

Evolutionary Perspective on Schizophrenia and Its Eugenics History

Torrey makes an evolutionary argument against the inheritance of schizophrenia. He observes that people with psychiatric diagnoses, especially schizophrenia, have been found to have lower rates of procreation.

Besides, in relation to eugenics movement when many schizophrenic persons were sterilized, he asks why there was no decrease in its prevalence even after forced sterilizations were undertaken.

Advocacy for Research Focus Change

Due to the perceived failure of genetics studies, Torrey calls for reconsideration of NIMH’s research portfolio.

He insists on less emphasis about genetic investigations and recommends re-engagement in fundamental inquiries into biological origins of schizophrenia.

He specifically mentions his work on toxoplasma gondii a parasite that may be associated with schizophrenia as a potential area for further investigation.

Moreover, he demands more funds for clinical trials targeting development of new drugs for curing this disorder.

Critique Of NIMH’s Research Priorities

According to Torrey, the National Institute of Mental Health is blamed for its singular obsession with genetics which has limited enquiries into other non-biological causes of schizophrenia like trauma, isolation and poverty.

NIMH’s approach has overlooked other ways of being psychotic such as the Hearing Voices movement and nonmedical interventions like Open Dialogue and Soteria.

A Reassessment of Research Priorities

In summary, Torrey’s paper questions the dominant narrative about schizophrenia being rooted in genes.

His plea for a reevaluation of research priorities that no longer only concentrate on genetic factors implies that we need a wider array and holistic understanding of this malady.

The decades-long search for schizophrenia genes may have yielded no fruits, but Torrey’s suggested refocus presents fresh prospects for unraveling the intricate determinants behind this baffling disorder.


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