Every year, there are over 200,000 cases of schizophrenia reported in the United States. A disease as complex as it sounds, schizophrenia has long affected individuals dating back to ancient times, and till this day, researchers and scientists are trying to untangle its complexities and learn more about the disorder.
According to the New York Times, researchers offered a glimpse of hope Wednesday of better understanding the causes of the long time disease due to a breakthrough study that has revealed a specific gene and biological process behind the disorder’s cause.
Schizophrenia has long been a problem child in the medical community. While treatments exist to reduce some of the disorders symptoms, scientists have yet to discover a reliable treatment that truly attacks and treats the causes of the disease. Troubles in addressing the affliction have left those who suffer from the disorder to live a life that is manipulated by hallucinations, loss of cognitive functions, and delusional thinking in a society that is incapable of comprehending their symptoms and behavior.
“Since schizophrenia was first described over a century ago, its underlying biology has been a black box, in part because it has been virtually impossible to model the disorder in cells or animals” said Steven McCarroll, director of genetics at Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research. “The human genome is providing a powerful new way in to this disease.”
With the intense focus on existing studies from the worldwide database of genomes – as well as the collaboration of experts in the fields of molecular biology, developmental neurobiology, immunology, and genetics – researchers from the Broad Institute, Harvard Medical School, and Boston Children’s Hospital, led by Steven McCarroll and Beth Stevens, were able to touch on the early stages of schizophrenia and detection in the neurology of youth who eventually fall victim to the disease.
The researchers, who published the study Wednesday, were able to hone in on a gene from the DNA data of 28,799 people with schizophrenia and 35,986 who did not have the disorder. The gene that has shed light on understanding the disorder is named C4, and the study states that it increases an individuals risk at developing schizophrenia by 30 percent over that of the general population.
Although treatment and cures are still far off, researchers are one step closer in making a breakthrough, as they were able to find a specific link which shows that the brain’s process during adolescence and young adulthood become overactive, resulting in a deletion of the communication between brain cells (a process know as “synaptic pruning“) therefore causing an abnormal loss of gray matter. And despite low gray matter being apparent in brain scans and autopsies of those who suffered from the disease in the past, the reasoning behind the loss was not made apparent until now.
The research by McCarroll and his colleagues amounts to an unprecedented study representing a significant breakthrough for neuroscience and opens up doors of possibilities for a future treatment that can allow those affected by schizophrenia to not only maintain a healthy lifestyle, but do so independently.
“Because the molecular origins of psychiatric diseases are little-understood, efforts by pharmaceutical companies to pursue new therapeutics are few and far between,” said Bruce Cuthbert, acting director of the National Institute of Mental Health “This study changes the game.”
(AP Photo/Alastair Grant)