With yesterday’s news of a new schizophrenia study pinpointing over 100 genetic links to the disease, the question of how this will impact patients now and in the near-future was raised. The good news is that this new schizophrenia study found many things to continue exploring the disease scientifically. The bad news is that it changes little for patients suffering from it right now.
In our Inquisitr article yesterday, we looked at this new schizophrenia study‘s genetic findings and touched on what they could mean for therapies moving forward. But John Williams, writing for The Telegraph, put it best when he said that the schizophrenia study pinpoints “how little we know.”
The up-side to the schizophrenia study published this week is that it proves a biological basis for schizophrenia that had hitherto been hinted at and generally accepted, but not emphasized in study. With clear biological basis, the disease moves from the realm of the scientifically “shadier” psychiatry (which often is marginalized by hard scientists) to the more concrete and accepted realm of biology (physical science). This makes schizophrenia and much more study-able disease in terms of science and broadens the likelihood that it will be studied by more varied researchers.
This, in turn, opens the door to a better understanding of schizophrenia through more study, of course. According to ABC Australia, in fact, the stronger evidence this schizophrenia study found for links from the disease to auto-immune genes is particularly big. According to Professor Brian Mowry from the Queensland Brain Institute, quoted in that ABC article, this could mean future schizophrenia study might find an auto-immune link similar to that which helps cause rheumatoid arthritis. That, in turn, would lead to pharmaceutical treatments to combat its effects.
Further evidence in the new schizophrenia study makes the tie between the genetics behind the disease and the brain very clear. Of the 108 genes matched to schizophrenia risks, nearly all were related to neurological tissues, especially those in the brain.
Most mental illnesses, schizophrenia included, have therapeutics based on their environmental causes (or expected causes). Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), for example, has a clear environmental cause-effect, according to psychiatry. Schizophrenia, however, is more diverse, with a likelihood of several factors coming together to cause the disease’s manifestation in a patient. In this way, genetics alone cannot pinpoint the disease itself, but may aid in earlier detection or treatment.
Going back to the Telegraph, we read a simpler explanation: “The puzzle of schizophrenia is that any one patient might have one of thousands of possible combination of genes which leads to greater susceptibility to the illness, plus a handful of environmental risk factors.” It’s for this reason that schizophrenia study and diagnosis will likely remain descriptive rather than biological. The new genetic findings, however, could bolster diagnosis by adding tests to aid the process.
As for patients who currently have a schizophrenia diagnosis, this new study does little to change their lives. For now. More schizophrenia study will continue, of course, but the greatest benefit to current patients is less tangible, but no less important. Acceptance. With a biological basis now firmly set for schizophrenia, healthcare providers and study will be much more apt to accept it without questioning schizophrenia’s validity.
Acceptance leads to less stigma, which leads to less stress and better treatment options. That, ultimately, will be the real boon from this schizophrenia study.