A glimmer of light for neuropsychiatric disorders, by Steven Hyman
In an article published in Nature in 2008, Steven Hyman, a Harvard professor of neurobiology and NIMH’s director from 1996 to 2001, acknowledged that “despite the disease burden attributable to neuropsychiatric disorders, and despite significant research, their mechanisms of pathogenesis and precise genetic and non-genetic risk factors have remained stubbornly out of reach” (Hyman 2008, 890). Immediately following his rather bleak assessment, Hyman claimed that “this parlous state of affairs is finally beginning to improve, in part through the application of new genomic technologies coupled to advances in neuroscience.” This “glimmer of light” announced a “new dawn” in the diagnosis and treatment of “neuropsychiatric disorders” (893).
This “glimmer of light” announced a “new dawn” in the diagnosis and treatment of “neuropsychiatric disorders” (893). We could quote dozens of claims characterized by the same structure: first comes a strongly pessimistic observation about the “current” situation, then a declaration of hope in future breakthroughs in understanding pathogenesis. These breakthroughs depend on the underlying belief that psychological distress is essentially a state of the brain and must be ultimately understood and explained as such, a belief also expressed by the common use of brain disorder and neuropsychiatry to refer to what used to be called mental disorder and psychiatry.
Understanding the pathogenesis of neuropsychiatric disorders is a substantial challenge for neurobiologists. It has long been hoped that identifying alleles that confer increased risk of such disorders would provide clues for neurobiological investigation. But this quest has been stymied by a lack of validated biological markers for characterizing and distinguishing the different disorders and by the genetic complexity underpinning these diseases. Now, modern genomic technologies have begun to facilitate the discovery of relevant genes.
Download the article, provided by Nature International Journal of Science:Hyman, Steven E. 2008. A Glimmer of Light for Neuropsychiatric Disorders. Nature 455:890–893.Watch other lectures by Steven Hyman: