Electrical Circuit Diagrams and the Challenge of Antipsychotic Drugs

Electrical Circuit Diagrams and the Challenge of Antipsychotic Drugs

09.21.12 | By Kaelan Hollon

Scientific American has several good blogs, and one of my favorites is Gary Stix's Talking Back (@gstix1) which covers neuroscience. Today Gary wrote a quick post about a new study published in Nature which maps out the architecture of our brain's genetics (don't click the Nature link unless you're ready for some intense nerd-speak). That study could be a game-changer. Instead of looking for gene 'maps', it calls for science to focus on researching our genetic circuitry; a small but important difference in word choice.

Framing a brain's genetic circuitry in terms of an electrical board could transform research into new medicines, if it's correct. Writes Stix:

"Neuroscientists have devoted inordinate energy in recent years to publicize the need for, not only gene maps, but for a full wiring diagram of all brain circuits. The benefits of a connectome as it is known might yield new understanding that could eventually result in pharmaceuticals for intractable psychiatric disorders. This ultimate neural network might even divvy up intimations of the workings of consciousness."

Figuring out our neural circuitry is especially important for mental diseases like schizophrenia, and approaching new research from a hacker's perspective could provide new clues in how certain epigenetic tags and their genetic counterparts could trigger psychosis, and how that reaction might eventually be turned off with the help of a new medicine.

Reading Stix' post, I was struck by the fact that after hundreds of years into mapping how our brain works, research into new medicines can still be turned on its head. This doesn't happen inside innovation plans for other products - a car manufacturer isn't going to suddenly discover that everything they thought they knew about transmission systems must be fundamentally rebuilt in half the time. That's the beauty of innovative medicine, I guess - the ability to build not only on the successes, but the failures of research and quickly transform that research into new cures. Right now we've got more than 187 new medicines in development for mental illnesses, but with genius neuroscience hackers at work, as Stix mentioned, perhaps we should start preparing for even more.

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