Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

The Personal Genomics Revolution: Focus on Mental Health

PSYC 56N

The Human Genome Project transformed the field of medicine and launched the “Personal Genomics Revolution”. It is now possible to view your DNA in minute detail for only $99. Height, weight, educational attainment, depression risk, and much more, can be predicted using genetic information. Ethical questions abound regarding the use of genetic information in medicine, the legal system, government, and private companies. On the other hand, genetic findings may dramatically improve mental health treatment by guiding the development of new medications, matching patients to the right treatments, and identifying people for whom early mental health services might make all the difference.

How much can you learn about risk for mental health problems from your DNA? This course will provide the foundational genetic and statistical information necessary for understanding the current and future capabilities of personal genomic predictions for mental health outcomes including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. We will also explore the ways in which genetic data can reveal where our ancestors lived as well as the consequences of a lack of diversity in genetic databases. This course also focuses on the practice of science – how it works well and how it can go terribly wrong. Learning from past examples of the misuse of genetic information, students will propose and debate strategies for maximizing the utility of genetic research to improve mental health while simultaneously limiting potential harms.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Laramie Duncan

Dr. Duncan’s work is at the intersection of psychology, statistical genetics, and neuroscience. The Duncan Lab use massive datasets and primarily computational approaches to identify risk factors and mechanisms contributing to mental health problems like schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Translational work in the lab leverages biomarkers and human postmortem brain tissue to advance the ultimate goal of building more rational approaches to classification, prevention, and treatment of psychiatric disorders.