Gene variations, or slight differences in a person’s genetic makeup, are responsible for all traits and characteristics that make individuals unique (e.g., hair or eye color, height, etc.). At the same time, some variations in genes increase a person’s vulnerability for developing certain types of mental illnesses, including depressive disorders, attention problems and schizophrenia.
In addition to vulnerability for certain mental health conditions in the presence of genetic variations, mutations in genes can also contribute to genetic diseases, by causing people to inherit abnormalities in their DNA. Such genetic mutations can lead to conditions such as Huntington’s disease, Fragile X syndrome and sickle cell anemia.
CRISPR gene editing technology
What if humans had the ability to change their risk for certain types of diseases and the genetic mutations that predispose them to diseases? A novel gene-editing tool called Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) has the potential to change medicine and the way humans treat physical and mental conditions. The CRISPR technology can be used to delete or insert DNA sequences to correct the genetic mutations found in people with genetic diseases.
For the first time, scientists at Duke University used the CRISPR gene-editing technology to “cut and paste” genetic material into parts of the gene to correct the genetic mutations present in cultured cells taken from patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), a disease caused by a mutation in the dystrophin gene.
Gene editing for mental disorders
Although the CRISPR technology is still relatively new, its potential use for treating genetic diseases is very exciting for medical and behavioral health professionals. Researchers believe that genetic components contribute to mental health conditions, including bipolar and depressive disorders, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, schizophrenia and autistic spectrum disorders. In fact, a study examining common gene variants of these five disorders found that 17 to 28 percent of the risk for mental illness can be linked to genetic inheritance.
Although gene-editing technology like the CRISPR can be used to remove or change genes, the presence of environmental factors can contribute to the development of mental illness. Head injuries; infections; exposure to toxins, carcinogens and other harmful substances; substance abuse and poor nutrition are only some of the environmental factors that can increase a person’s risk for mental health problems.
People may eventually be able to change virtually anything they want to — from their appearance and personality traits to their risk for certain physical or mental conditions. There are endless possibilities of what we could eventually do with gene-editing technology — even “curing” people with debilitating substance use problems, mental illnesses and medical conditions.
Patients with substance use, mental health and co-occurring disorders can receive pharmacogenetic testing as part of the comprehensive, individualized behavioral health treatment services offered at Sovereign Health of California. For more information on this and other aspects of our treatment programs, please contact our 24/7 helpline.
About the author
Amanda Habermann is a writer for Sovereign Health. A graduate of California Lutheran University, she received her M.S. in clinical psychology with an emphasis in psychiatric rehabilitation. She brings to the team her background in research, testing and assessment, diagnosis and recovery techniques. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.