Note: this post involves a very small amount of self-disclosure.
That is a bit unusual.
My father is also a psychiatrist. He told me once about his
education in psychopharmacology. A guy got up to lecture,
identified himself as the “drug doctor,” and gave a lecture on
psychopharmacology. In fact, he gave a series
lectures…about five, total.
That was in the early to mid 1950’s. What did we have back
then? Basically two things: uppers and downers.
By the mid 1980’s things had changed. We knew about
neurotransmitters and receptors. I distinctly recall a
in which the professor semi-jokingly said that he was going to explain
neurotransmission using a series of slides. One slide
detailed what was known about the synthesis of the transmitters.
The next showed how the molecules were packed into vesicles,
the next how the vesicles released the molecules into the synapse, and
the next showed how the transmitter binds to the receptor.
With a flourish, he put up the next slide, which looked
something like this:
(Remember, this was before Powerpoint)
That was sort of a joke, and everyone sort of laughed. I’m
you know the kind of laugh. Anyway, it really did sum up the
state of knowledge at the time. Yeah, we knew there were
messengers, and we knew that transcription and translation were
involved somehow, sometimes. And depolarization etc.
Now, we are starting to get a sense of what the “something” is that
happens. But only a hint, really. Sometimes it
though we are really making progress; other times it seems hopelessly
complex. Sometimes that complexity is discouraging.
then I remember, it is the damnable complexity of it that attracted me
to the field in the first place! With the rapid increase in
knowledge from “something happens” to truly useful neuroimaging,
receptor assays, genetics, and what seemed to be a gushing pipeline of
Ironically, it may turn out that things like rTMS are the next big
I am not happy with the current state of affairs in pharmaceutical
discovery, or development, but the only improvements I could see would
cost an awful lot of money and take a lot of time.
Which leads me to venture an opinion. I think we need to pull
back a bit from looking for the next blockbuster drug, and spend a few
more years, or decades, on basic research. It’s just a gut
feeling, but The way things are going right now, at least with respect
to antidepressants, we seem to be loosing steam.