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Granite Falls Advocate Tribune - Granite Falls, MN
  • Dr. Murray Feingold: Schizophrenia - nature vs. nurture

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  • Schizophrenia occurs in about 1 percent of the population. Symptoms include paranoia, hearing voices, agitation and difficulty functioning in society.
    Concerning its cause, there has always been the controversy of “nature vs. nurture,” that is, what role does inheritance play versus the role of environment.
    A recent study has shed more light on this subject. Researchers, using genome sequencing, studied individuals who were schizophrenic and those who were not. Results of this large study determined that 108 genes were found to be linked to schizophrenia. Most of these genes were present in the brain and involved neurotransmitters, that is, chemicals that transmitted information from one nerve cell to another.
    Another finding determined that genes involving the body’s immune system also play some type of role in the cause of schizophrenia. These findings do not eliminate the role that the environment can play. There are certain environmental factors that are associated with schizophrenia in people who have a genetic predisposition to the disease. These same factors would not affect an individual who does not have such a predisposition.
    These new findings must be looked at in the proper perspective. Although the genes are identified, in most cases, their specific role in the causation of schizophrenia is not known. Also, there are probably even more genes associated with schizophrenia that remain unidentified.
    Once the role of the genes is determined, the next important step is to determine how this information will be helpful in treating and preventing this condition.
    The role that genes play in schizophrenia is a microcosm of the importance of gene sequencing. Researchers are now determining how mutated genes cause cancer, heart disease and most medical maladies.
    The practice of medicine has already begun to change as more is learned about how the presence or absence of certain genes can affect almost every aspect of the human body.
    These genetic advances even involve the fetus. The blood of a pregnant women also contains the blood cells of her fetus. By doing genomic sequencing on these fetal cells, even before the baby is born, it can be determined if the fetus is affected with various genetic diseases.
    The medical, moral and ethical issues raised by these genetic advances need answers - not tomorrow, but today.
    ——
    Massachusetts-based Dr. Murray Feingold is the physician in chief of The Feingold Center for Children, medical editor of WBZ-TV and WBZ radio, and president of the Genesis Fund. The Genesis Fund is a nonprofit organization that funds the care of children born with birth defects, mental retardation and genetic diseases.

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