The International Bipolar Foundation recently shared this article: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/317919.php
And I found it pretty fascinating.
Researchers have identified 7 genes that are related to insomnia. That alone is great news, as gene therapy becomes an ever more real way to treat mental illness.
But they also found some interesting associations. Now, I should note that none of this should be surprising. Everything I am about to tell you should make perfect sense. But it is still nice to see hard science backing up what soft science already associated.
They were able to reference these seven genes with previous studies of the genetics of mental illness and sleep conditions. Insomnia was strongly associated with the same genes as Restless Leg Syndrome. Of course, I suffer from both. And fairly often, I find one creates the other. I can’t sleep because my legs won’t stop. I can’t sleep and so my legs won’t stop.
Anxiety and depression also share many common genes with insomnia. Surprise surprise there. We may one day have a complete theory of the role of sleep in mental illness that begins with this genetic understanding.
This is the most brilliant bit: MEIS1 is a gene that has a common variant in both restless leg syndrome and insomnia. Of course, RLS is a physical restlessness, while insomnia is mental. This suggests that similar genetic markers can have corollary effects in both your physical and mental health; yet another piece of evidence that your mental health is simply a different form of physical health.
I mentioned gene therapy earlier so I thought this would be a good place to talk about that a bit too.
Gene therapy is, basically, swapping out ‘bad’ genes for good ones. This can be a very effective way to treat certain things. However, the problem with gene therapy is that most things are created by the acting of a single gene. Some things have hundreds of genes, or maybe even orders of magnitude more, working to create them. In the case of insomnia here, we have at least 7, right?
I also mentioned earlier that genetic research has already been applied to mental illnesses. Here is a link to a great article that also links to a good study: http://theconversation.com/large-genetic-study-paves-way-for-new-treatment-of-mental-illness-12546
In that piece they talk about how a slew of mental illnesses were related to genetic factors that controlled the flow of calcium in the brain. Possibly one day, you could utilize gene therapy, not to swap out the thousands of genes that create mental illness, but to alter the genes controlling calcium flow, to make it function more normally.
The article goes on to state that genetic understanding of mental illness can lead us to more concrete understandings and diagnoses, and this might confirm the spectrum theory I wrote an essay on last summer.
To be perfectly honest, our understanding of both genetics and mental illness is far too sophomoric to expected anything to radically change soon, or maybe even in my lifetime. But the idea that one day we will understand the genetics of these diseases and be able to treat the underlying causes instead of just the symptoms is exciting to me.
And I think that if gene therapy is never able to be fully applied to something like Bipolar, due to such an expansive array of genes involved, maybe it can be successfully applied to a handful of genes that turn the disease from devastating to livable; suicide to survival, alive to thrive.