A new form of gene therapy could make you insane, then set you right again.
Scientists have discovered that disabling series of genes in mice makes them engage in repetitive actions, similar to what humans do when they have schizophrenia, autism, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. But, as the researchers report in a paper to be published in Neuron tomorrow, medicines could be used to replicate the functions of the disabled genes, essentially switching off the craziness like a light. Is this a weapon or a cure?
Obviously the researchers are most interested in how their discovery could help bring stability into the lives of people suffering neurological distress. They hope to garget FKBP12, a key gene involved in creating the obsessive behaviors, for therapeutic techniques. NYU's Eric Klann, a researcher on the project, said:
[FKBP12] may be an ideal target for therapeutic drug development aimed at ameliorating some of the . . . related pathologies of neurological disease.
However, this research could just as easily lead to drugs that temporarily induce schizophrenic states. Exploring the cascade of effects created when tampering with FKBP12 has revealed that the gene is involved with enhanced memory as well. Would it be worth it to become temporarily OCD or autistic if it would give you an incredibly sharp memory for a few hours or days?
In twenty years, you could see rooms full of students taking tests who are hopped up on FKBP12 inhibitors, carefully regurgitating all the answers they memorized but unfortunately also feeling compelled to wash their hands every five minutes. And of course inducing schizophrenia in prisoners could become a new form of torture.
Image from Scorpions' awesome album Blackout. If you already knew that, you are an old fart like me.