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Four Sisters With Schizophrenia, Four Decades of Scrutiny

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Ultimately, schizophrenia may prove to result from an extraordinarily complex interaction of genes, biology and environment, continuously over time, says Irving Gottesman, PhD, the Sherrell J. Aston professor of psychology at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

The follow-up study of the Genains "continues the tradition in schizophrenia research of demonstrating that it is inaccurate to push for an exclusive genetic, biological or environmental point of view as being sufficient to account for what we see in schizophrenia generally, or in the Genains in particular."

For this reason, study of the four sisters may carry lessons beyond understanding schizophrenia. The factors that contribute to the disease -- genes, biology, psychosocial factors and the random events of life itself -- are what also contribute to normal development and personality, he says.

Genains research contributes to "an enlightened view of how genes and environmental factors are continuously interacting to make all of us what we are," says Gottesman.

The Genain sisters, scrutinized by researchers the world over, have become four unique individuals living out the seventh decade of remarkably difficult lives. Scientists have been at pains to guard their privacy and confidentiality, while relishing the opportunity they provide for a glimpse into the varying course of a dread disease, Mirsky says.

"They are still of interest, and I get calls from geneticists all over the world wanting a blood sample," Mirsky says. "The story of the Genains is not over."

 

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