Thursday, September 19, 2013

Biomarkers: Could this be the future of mental illness diagnosis

*Originally written for The Neurobiology of Mental Health class at Sarah Lawrence College

The Future Is Nearing

Biomarkers have become, somewhat, of a sliver of hope within the mental health paradigm. Generating optimism for what could be a more accurate method of diagnostic and determining treatment, biomarkers is often met with open arms. However, I appreciated the skepticism shown in the articles written by Singh & Rose (2009) and Lackan et al. (2010).

As a skeptic who often finds herself concerned over the consequences of new theories, methods, as well as technology, I quickly took a noticed that biomarkers could potentially be another driver of global disparity, if not domestic, much smaller incidents of discrimination. Singh & Rose wrote that biomarkers, including genetic detection, could result in “discrimination on biological or genetic grounds” (Singh & Rose, 2009, 202). Moreover, Lackan et al. elaborated on the possibility of discrimination in the workplace, similar to incidences involving tuberculosis and HIV. Clearly, the social repercussions that could be caused by biomarkers are socially tangible and would highly influence one’s future in very real ways. In addition, these consequences, though equally strong in affect, could involve an individual or entire races or nations.

Refusing Not to See, Hear or Speak Seem Smarter Already
On a more pragmatic note, Lackan et al. focused on the high cost to diagnose using biomarkers. At the current estimate of $3,000, only a handful of people are able to afford the procedure. Much like brain scans, which are valuable information to have, biomarkers will be a sought after method that is only available to certain individuals, as well as nations. The sheer cost of biomarker procedures would make it exclusive to developed countries with top of the class infrastructure and comprehensive health policies.

The issue here is twofold. First, biomarkers will widen the disparity between developed and developing or underdeveloped countries. Second, international data on certain mental conditions will change drastically, which could be largely driven by the readiness of this new diagnostic method. For example, if biomarkers could detect depression, then countries such as the U.S., Finland, Japan, the U.K., and Australia would show an increase in number of depression cases, when in actuality the number could be similar in other countries where the technology is still unobtainable. 

Singh & Rose, as well as Lackan et al. created the momentum needed to evaluate biomarkers before it is readily available to be used regularly in diagnosing and treating mental conditions. Both teams glazed over several important ramifications of the biomarkers that demand attention from the public, especially researchers and mental health professionals. Yet, I believe that there are larger stake at hand that also require to be acknowledged when developing these biomarkers and preparing them to be part of the health care system. Having said that, I agree with Singh & Rose and Lackan et al. that these conceivable consequences should be addressed through policy, legal endeavors, as well as research. A sophisticated infrastructure would also be an imperative part of the launch of biomarkers. Overall, the biomarker provides a refreshing view into the future of mental health diagnosis and treatment, however there are potential challenges that might be dealt with through policy and further research. 

Lakhan, S. E., Vieira, K., & Hamlat, E. (2010). Biomarkers in psychiatry: drawbacks and potential for misuse. Internal Archives of Medicine, 3. 1-6.

Singh, I., & Rose, N. (2009). Biomarkers in psychiatry. Nature, 460, 202-207.

*Writer owns rights to all photographs displayed

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