December 26, 2000
It is interesting to me to note that while my psychiatrist, who got his Ph.D. in Chemistry before his M.D, has maintained since the early 80’s that Bipolar Affective Disorder (BD) is hereditary, my own father, a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, insists that BD is strictly somatic and has no hereditary roots whatsoever. This rift in opinions between these two men seems to represent the two main opinions about the nature of BD in the world today. Medical doctors, by and large, think it is a hereditary disease with environmental overtones, while psychologists seem to say that BD is purely a product of environment. My own parents hold to the severest extreme. They actually believe that my BD is my fault, and that, with a little willpower, I could cure myself, if I weren’t so derelict in doing so.
The doctors have an undeniable point. Research going back to the early part of this century showed that BD ran in families. Of course, it was pointed out that these families often shared the same environment, so the studies were not conclusive. However, in the 1960’s, Seymour S. Kety and his associates at the National Institute Of Mental Health (NIMH) and at a psychological institute in Scandinavia found that biological relatives of persons afflicted with BD developed the illness while adoptive relatives in the same environment did not. Finally, today, twin-studies,
with one twin adopted, show both to be at risk when coming from a family which manifests BD—regardless of how different their environments may be.
It is thought by the scientific researcher of today that BD stems from the interaction of genes with some aspect of the environment, different genes in interacting in varying degrees with widely varying aspects of the environment. This is why it has been so difficult—nearly impossible, in fact, to localize specific genes as “the cause” of BD. One researcher will identify genes on chromosomes 3, 5, 15, 16, 17 and 22 as causing susceptibility to BD. Others will assert that it is actually only sites on chromosomes 2, 11, 14. All of them can be shown to be interactive, but none of them seem to be able to be reproduced exclusively by the same laboratory conditions.
There is, in fact, such a long history of research into the genetic aspects of BD that , in 1997, the Department of Pshychiatry at the Washington University (St. Louis) School of Medicine (WUSM-SL) reiterated categorically that “BD has been shown to have a genetic susceptibility,” but that, because it is such a complex disorder, the mapping of the exact genetic process remains incomplete (Dorr et al, 1997).
I recently ran across a study of the genetic aspects of (BD) underway at WUSM-SL under Dr. Theodore Reich and funded in part by the NIMH. Called “The Collaborative Genomic Project of Bipolar Disorder,” the researchers target full-siblings who have experienced the most severe form of BD, Bipolar 1 Disorder. They collect as much data as they can in terms of family history, and seek to “determine the informative genetic markers associated with BD,”
with the purpose of improving the diagnosis and treatment of BD.
Blood samples are taken from qualified sibling pairs, and up to $80 is paid to cover time and expense. As this is an ongoing project, researchers can be reached at
Toll Free (888) 292-1210 or by Email at firstname.lastname@example.org
The research website may also be visited:
I strongly urge anyone who is interested in the genetics of BD and anyone who thinks they and a sibling may qualify for the study to contact the researcher. Your collaboration will help all of us.
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