Science 3 min read

Could CRISPR Gene Editing Help Cure Mental Illness?

Tumisu / Pixabay

Tumisu / Pixabay

Researchers have discovered the presence of common groups of genes in individuals with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression. If these genes are responsible for these mental illnesses, could gene editing methods like CRISPR-Cas9 be a possible treatment option?

In many respects, the nature of mental illness remains a mystery to medical professionals, despite the progress made in diagnosis and treatment.

In addition to the role that life experiences and early childhood development may play, researchers always suspected that there are some hereditary elements to mental illness. Other research, however, indicates that individual genes might be responsible for certain mental illnesses more than previously thought.

“It was striking to us that we could identify the broad functional overlaps, knowing there is a lot of variability among individuals with mental disorders.” – Sarven Sabunciyan

Understanding and Diagnosing Mental Illness

Researchers at the Stanley Division of Developmental Neurovirology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine used RNA sequencing methods to identify the genetic commonalities in the brains of deceased patients diagnosed with three different mental illnesses.

Tissues samples were taken from 157 defunct donors aged between 19 and 68 at the time of death. Ninety-three percent of donors were Caucasian, and 63 percent were male.

Thirty-five percent of those studied suffered from schizophrenia, while 33 percent suffered from bipolar disorder. Their genome was compared to that of a 32-person control group not diagnosed with or afflicted by mental disorders.

Scientists worked on over a hundred sample tissues from the hippocampus region of the brain and 57 samples from the orbitofrontal cortex. They extracted and sequenced the mRNA of the donors, which is the blueprint created by DNA for corresponding protein growth. Afterward, the researchers compared collected RNA sequences with a complete human genome.

The researchers noted that, in the samples from the patients diagnosed with mental illness, mRNA production was either higher or lower than levels seen in patients not suffering from mental illness. Therefore, if the mRNA production imbalance is responsible for these mental illnesses, mRNA production could theoretically be regulated via gene editing in order to treat the diseases.

“There are subtle differences in individual genes, and these differences are enriched in sets of genes involved in specific cell processes in the brain tissue of people with a variety of severe mental disorders,” explains Sarven Sabunciyan, Ph.D., one of the authors of the study.

Sabunciyan continued by adding that “it was striking to us that we could identify the broad functional overlaps, knowing there is a lot of variability among individuals with mental disorders.”

CRISPR-Cas9 Scissors

After identifying similarities among schizophrenic, bipolar and severely depressed patients on the genetic level, could it be possible to treat these mental illnesses on the genetic level?

Genome editing introduces a “working” version of a defective gene into the DNA of an individual, and CRISPR-Cas9 specifically allows the targeting, cutting and replacing of a specific gene.

The study and its findings not only help to deepen our understanding of the complexity of the human genome, but also has the potential to enable better diagnosis and treatment of certain mental disorders.

Read More: CRISPR-Cas 3: Researchers Create New Gene-Editing System

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

Comments (15)
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  1. Profile Image
    Paul Walter February 24 at 6:32 am GMT

    When will trials start ?

    • Profile Image
      Alexander De Ridder Admin February 24 at 8:27 pm GMT

      Not sure. This is still illegal in many parts of the world.

      • Profile Image
        Bayrem Dridi February 26 at 2:06 pm GMT

        Are there any experts who made an estimation as to when this technology will be used?

        • Profile Image
          Lewis Mc Cahill February 27 at 12:17 pm GMT

          It’s hard to say as there is still a lot of debate over what CRISPR gene editing should be limited to. There is already the case of the Chinese scientist who illegally genetically engineered two children late last year, but it’s likely that CRISPR gene editing won’t be a widespread treatment (especially for mental illness) for a couple of years.

          • Profile Image
            Bayrem Dridi March 08 at 2:15 pm GMT

            Just another question.
            Do you think these findings could be applied on mental illnesses like gad and other anxiety disorders seeing the wealth of data supporting the fact that they are caused by certain genes?

          • Profile Image
            Julie simons February 27 at 4:03 am GMT

            So this article was written in 2019, Any new news, I’m scouring the internet for anyone who may have a clue to when or if there is progress being made.

    • Profile Image
      Bill Coyne October 27 at 7:36 pm GMT

      UNNATURAL SELECTION,,,it’s a multiparty series on normal people using Crisper and other technologies to create cures in there own home. They have teaching videos and also sell the kits very cheaply. I am not saying do this,,but if you don’t have a few million dollars to spend on a treatment you can make it yourself for a few thousand dollars. That’s an actual quote…watch the series

    • Profile Image
      Julie simons September 22 at 4:03 am GMT

      This news brings a glimmer of hope. A cure! And not just another drug with bad side effects. It brings such hope! I would hope the government lets science advance as quickly as possible to end suffering of so many thousands of families.

  2. Profile Image
    Getwele Natureceuticals March 10 at 6:48 pm GMT

    This information is very soothing and hopeful. Doing see real testing and confirmation will bring sucour to several families whose loved ones are going through this chro ic and debilitating diseases.
    I will surely help introduce this form of treatment to developing countries who do not yet know how to handle them.
    Thank you so very much and I will be getting more farmiliarise with the studies as they advance.

  3. Profile Image
    Paul Walter November 11 at 11:20 pm GMT


  4. Profile Image
    Paul Walter November 11 at 11:29 pm GMT

    Why publish this get people’s hopes up when gene editing for mental illness is not going to happen this century?.

    • Profile Image
      Joseph Omansky November 30 at 3:10 am GMT

      Never say never. Crspr is advancing quickly. I’m hopeful.

      • Profile Image
        Paul Walter December 14 at 10:30 pm GMT

        John Hopkins print crap

  5. Profile Image
    Renea Preston Lewis November 12 at 1:17 am GMT

    As a caregiver of a mentally ill but high IQ person, I truly believe we should prioritize this research for those with mental illness.

  6. Profile Image
    Will King November 28 at 7:48 pm GMT

    This looks fantastic. Gives me hope of perhaps being able to live a normal life one day.

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