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Hugh Gurling

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 23 December 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f7532
  1. Chris Mahony, London
  1. chris.mahony{at}

Pioneering molecular psychiatrist

Hugh Gurling was among the small group of psychiatrists in the 1970s who explored the possible genetic roots of serious mental illness. To some extent this group was swimming against the tide of a psychiatric orthodoxy which emphasised psychological and social factors.

In 1987 Gurling established a groundbreaking molecular psychiatry unit at University College London (UCL), a facility that remains internationally important 26 years later.

Andy McQuillin, who worked with Gurling at UCL in recent years, says: “The general feeling at the time was that the focus should be on social psychiatry rather than biological factors. The major thing Hugh showed was that there was something genetic to be found out there, and he developed a path for people to follow.”

In 1988 Gurling published a paper in the journal Nature that seemed to show that chromosome 5 harboured a gene for schizophrenia. Although the implications of the results reported in the paper remain unclear, consultant psychiatrist Dave Curtis, who trained under Gurling at the UCL unit, says it was particularly controversial because it implied that schizophrenia has biological and genetic roots.

“It started …

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