Home bipolar test? What. In. The. World.

DNA strand

I stumbled upon an AP article on Yahoo! News titled, “Home bipolar disorder test causes stirs.” No kidding.

I read the article trying to figure out how this company, Psynomics, is able to genetically figure out who is more predisposed to what.

To take the test, patients receive by mail a plastic cup that they spit into, seal and send back to Psynomics. The company analyzes DNA in the saliva.

Psynomics will send patients’ test results only to their doctors to avoid the risk of self-diagnosis.

Here’s a sample report located on the Web site (PDF file).

Are you interested? If you’re anyone other than a white person of Northern European ancestry who shows some bipolar symptoms and has at least one other bipolar family member, then you don’t meet the criteria for this testing. Even if you do, save your money and buy something else – the test costs a steep $399 and the results aren’t entirely certain. In fact, researchers and doctors say there is very little data at the moment to support testing DNA for bipolar disorder or other mental illnesses.

[Dr. John] Kelsoe, 52, acknowledges that bipolar disorder probably results from a combination of genetic factors and life experiences, and that the presence of these gene variations does not at all mean that someone will, in fact, develop the disease. He admits, too, that his findings about the genetic basis of the illness are far from complete.

“The goal of this is to try and help doctors make an accurate diagnosis more quickly so the patient can be treated appropriately,” Kelsoe said. “Anything is going to help, even if it just helps a little bit.”

I’m worried that people are going to think that they have bipolar disorder, fork over the money for gene testing, and be told when that they have bipolar disorder when they really don’t. Why manufacture a mental illness for a person that may not exist?

In coming months, at least two other startups led by genetic researchers are set to release their own psychiatric genetic tests. One test claims to predict the risk of developing schizophrenia. The other is designed to forecast the likelihood that some medications for major depression could heighten suicidal thoughts in patients.

As much as I’m not a fan of psychiatrists and there’s always the chance for misdiagnosis, I call this company a scam designed to prey upon people’s insecurities. (Perhaps bipolar people would purchase this in the midst of a spending spree?) Regardless, some people are buying into this product that even the maker admits isn’t entirely accurate.

Psynomics has sold only a few tests so far but is projecting sales of 1,800 tests in 2008 and 30,000 in the next five years.

Considering that it now has major media coverage, it’s likely to take off even more.
(Image sciam.com)

Loose Screws Mental Health News

The AP has reported that a new Army mental health study says soldiers in Afghanistan have been suffering from an increase in depression in correlation with an increase in violence. It’s interesting that the focus is turning to Afghanistan now that violence has decreased in Iraq.

“The annual battlefield study found once again that soldiers on their third and fourth tours of duty had sharply greater rates of mental health problems than those on their first or second deployments, according to several officials familiar with the report.”

It seems that the more soldiers are exposed to combat, the higher the risk of depression and other mental health illnesses. A 2004 study indicates that about one in 10 soldiers have a serious mental health illlness that requires treatment. The AP article mainly focuses on depression but also mentions the rates of anxiety and PTSD are similar to the rates found in soldiers in Iraq last year. Thankfully, the number of troops who sought treatment has decreased to 29 percent from 34 percent in 2006.


TwinsOn a happy note (pun intended), a study published in Psychological Science has discovered that happiness can be genetic. Researchers studied about 1,000 identical and fraternal twins and found that their genes control about half of the traits that make people happy. The other half is control by circumstances.

“People who are sociable, active, stable, hardworking and conscientious tend to be happier, the researchers reported in the journal Psychological Science.

People with positive inherited personality traits may, in effect, also have a reserve of happiness to draw on in stressful times, [Tim Bates, a researcher at the University of Edinburgh who led the study] said.

“An important implication is that personality traits of being outgoing, calm and reliable provide a resource, we called it ‘affective reserve,’ that drives future happiness” Bates said.”

Basically, if you have none of those traits, you’ll just have to suffer through unhappiness like the rest of us. [sarcasm]


Finally, for those of you married men out there, here’s a tip to be a happier husband: Do more around the house, get more sex. ‘Nuff said.

(Image from Jupiter Images)

NICS the anti-depressants

In my Google alerts, I came upon a link to The Center for Science Writings at the Stevens Institute of Technology. John Horgan, a professor on the blog, received an e-mail from a former student commenting on the future of anti-depressant therapy:

Introducing “pharmacogenomics,” the latest and greatest addition to the ever-growing collection of pseudoscientific portmanteaus. According to a recent article in the New York Times written by Richard A. Friedman, M.D., there will soon be psychological medication that is custom-tailored to a patient’s DNA and genetic structure to ensure maximum effectiveness.

He makes his case with an example: his patient Laura. Laura was depressed, so Friedman gave her Lexapro, a common selective seratonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) anti-depressant. But Laura was still depressed, so he switched her to Zoloft, another SSRI. Still depressed, Laura switched to Wellbutrin, a non-SSRI anti-depressant. No dice. Dr. Friedman was frustrated; after three months he still couldn’t find an effective treatment for Laura. Then, Laura decided that since Prozac (also an SSRI) had helped her father with depression, she wanted to give it a shot. And voila, it worked!

If only Laura’s genes were able to reveal that Dr. Friedman should have prescribed Prozac, arguably the most well-known anti-depressant in America, from the very beginning, that would have saved a lot of hard, aggravating diagnosis work on everybody’s part.

But wait! There might be salvation on the horizon; according to Friedman it will soon be possible for doctors to analyze a patient’s unique genetic profile and prescribe the appropriate medicine so that time and money would no longer be wasted on the circuitous trial-and-error process of expert diagnoses.

No, what “melted away” Laura’s depression was good, old fashioned SSRI Prozac. But Friedman doesn’t see the contradiction. Instead, he claims that this new process of genetic-based medical treatments, “pharmacogenomics” will revolutionize the medicine, allow doctors to enhance their already astute diagnosing skills, and reduce the pharmaceutical industry to a withering dinosaur.

But what about Laura? What about the Prozac? Could it be that she was genetically predisposed to a specific brand of medicine? Are we all designed to respond to one drug label instead of another? If indeed that’s the case, there is only one logical conclusion to draw: God exists and He’s a Big Pharma shareholder.

Somehow, I’m not so convinced. — Suhas Sreedhar

I'm with Suhas. I skimmed Dr. Friedman's article and the whole process sounds weird. I think Laura probably – haha – psyched herself into thinking that Prozac would work since it worked for her dad.

While genes play a role in generational and familial health, I'm not completely convinced that psych meds would affect a father in the same way as it would affect his son or daughter across the board. Even if it really did work for Laura, I am skeptical that the method could be applied to any psychiatric patient. If a patient doesn't have any family, there we go with trial-and-error. Or we could just search our future FBI DNA mental health database and see if the patient matches up with anyone currently on meds.


Last week, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales called upon the remaining 27 states who don't report mental health files to the  NICS to do so. (That was an awful sentence.)

Speaking during a meeting of the nation's state attorneys general, Gonzales urged [states] to participate in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, more popularly known as "NICS."

Then the article (linked to above) jumped to protecting the public from sex offenders:.

Gonzales also called for ideas on how to protect the public from convicted sex offenders.

Mental health experts, however, say Gonzales is overreacting. Sex offenders are less likely to repeat the same type of crime than other criminals, only about 13 percent within the first five years, said Dr. James Stark, former president of the Georgia Psychological Association.

"The whole country is in a predator panic. They've gone crazy," said Stark, who treats sexual disorders at the Marietta and Ellijay clinics of Psychological Forensic Associates.

"There are very few sex offenders who are actually dangerous," he said, adding that most of the 13,000 people on Georgia's registry of sex offenders are there for flashing, being a peeping Tom or having consensual sex with an underage girlfriend.

Maybe I'm overreacting. If a sex offender isn't dangerous, why is he or she a sex offender to begin with? Yup, peeping Toms don't ever turn into psychos. On that matter, try watching Alfred Hitchcock's movie, Psycho. (Please don't watch the remake. You'll be better off for it.)

Loose Screws Mental Health News

As much as I hate to admit it, the Scientologists have a point.

A group linked to Scientology staged a protest near a school after a student on psychiatric drugs stabbed a classmate to death. The point of the protest was to highlight “the dangers of antidepressants.”

“Several Scientologists held signs that mentioned by name John Odgren, the teen accused in the fatal stabbing. Signs included slogans such as “What psychiatric drugs was John Odgren prescribed?” and “Stop combining drugs to make walking time bombs.”

Odgren, 16, has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism, and according to his attorney was taking several prescription medications at the time of the stabbing. Odgren lived in Princeton but attended a special education program at L-S.”

I didn’t know that psychiatric drugs made people homicidal. I guess if they can make people suicidal then homicidal isn’t that far off.

“’There’s a lot of concern around the country when kids are becoming violent on psychiatric drugs,’ said Kevin Hall, the Scientology group’s New England director.”

Concern from who? This is probably something I should look into. See my favorite quote below:

“This is not a serious request by a serious group,” said School Committee Chairman Mark Collins on the demand that Odgren’s medical records be made public.”

Ouch. Scientology dismissed in one sentence.

UPDATE: Psychiatry drugs supposedly have no violent effect on children. But there are two sides to the debate.

Version 1 —

“Though the Food and Drug Administration currently includes a warning, called a ‘black box warning,’ on SSRIs stating studies have shown increased risk of suicide, particularly among teens and children, [John Fromson, chair of the psychiatry department at MetroWest Medical Center] said there are no studies which show the drugs cause violence toward others.

‘Violence is a social issue here,’ he said. ‘Illicit street drugs can do that…but to make a connection between medication that’s prescribed for legitimate reasons and at appropriate doses and violence – the scientific evidence just isn’t there.'” [emphasis mine]

Version 2 —

“Advocates like Lisa Van Syckel, however, insist the drugs can lead to violence, because they’ve seen it firsthand.

Van Syckel’s anti-depressant ordeal began seven years ago, when her then- 15-year-old daughter Michelle was prescribed the SSRI Paxil for depression and anorexia.

Over the next year, Van Syckel said, she attacked her brother, she viciously attacked three police officers, she went after another student with a baseball bat and she cut the word ‘die’ into her abdomen.

After nearly a year on the medication, doctors changed Michelle’s diagnosis to Lyme disease, and gradually weaned the teen off the drugs, and Van Syckel said Michelle has been herself ever since.”

Perhaps the scientific evidence isn’t there because clinical studies don’t track adolescents long enough to determine whether a propensity toward violence to others significantly increases.


A Mexican man who tried to commit suicide became a victim of police homicide. (Weird.) He threw himself on the train tracks in the Mexico City subway and was eventually rescued by station employees. After two policemen took him into custody, they allegedly beat him to death inside their patrol car. It’s so sad that this man had a second chance at life and two stupid policemen took it away.


I didn’t know this was possible:

“A 23-year-old man who sold a lethal cocktail of drugs as “suicide pills” on the Internet was sentenced by a court in Germany on Wednesday to three years and nine months in prison. The man pleaded guilty to 16 counts of the illegal sale of pharmaceuticals, a spokesman for the court in Wuppertal said.”

Wow. Who does a Google search for “suicide cocktail” or “lethal drug cocktails”? Isn’t it easier (and cheaper) to do it the old-fashioned ways: crash a car, hanging, jumping off a bridge…? Not advocating suicide, but I don’t understand why people need to pay for suicide. Maybe they’re wussies like me. But that’s what overdosing on pills is for.  The Captain Obvious quote of the day:

“Suicide and assisting suicide are not illegal in Germany.”

Maybe I should move to Germany. (KIDDING. Just kidding. Sort of.)


50 Cent’s producer Disco D (Dave Shayman) killed himself on January 23. Although not much is known about his death, there is speculation that Disco D had bipolar disorder.

“DJ Vlad, a good friend of D, was shocked upon hearing the news.

‘Disco D was a good friend of mine. I lived with him in Brazil for a couple weeks. He was a real artist,’ Vlad revealed. ‘I just talked to him a few days ago, and he told me things were hard. I tried to cheer him up. I didn’t realize how hard it really was. I’m devastated right now.’”

No one really knows how difficult it is for someone struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts unless you’ve been there.


An article from IHT details interesting research that Harvard’s McLean Hospital is conducting to find out more about genetic schizophrenia.

“Consider, said Deborah Levy, the lab’s director: ‘The incidence of schizophrenia is stable at about 1 percent, and schizophrenics have very low reproductive rates. So what is keeping those genes going? One hypothesis is that most of the people carrying the schizophrenia genes are not the patients. Rather, they are some of the well parents and well siblings, most of whom never show signs of the illness.’”

Hmm. Is that why I’m an only child?

“The effects of such genes may show up in a variety of subtle ways, they say – including faulty eye-tracking and asymmetry in facial features so hard to detect that it is best measured by highly specialized 3-D cameras.

At Levy’s lab, people with schizophrenia and their relatives undergo 10 to 12 hours of tests. … The faces are measured in minute detail by Curtis Deutsch, a genetics expert who focuses on facial variations and their links to various diseases. … So, subtle abnormalities in the shape and layout of a face may reflect specific abnormalities in brain structure, he said. Thus far, he said, he has found that some schizophrenics do have certain minor facial anomalies – none of them visible to the naked eye – as do some of their healthy relatives.”

So it’s possible that facial features and movements could provide a clue to schizophrenic genes or perhaps increased risk for schizophrenia. The article’s pretty interesting. Go read the rest of it.