Schizophrenia Research Offers Hope of New Treatments

Schizophrenia Research Offers Hope of New Treatments

By Ian Birch

“Eureka moment” for suffers comes a step closer

Regular readers of my Mental Healthy blog will know by now I am a mental health and disability journalist with schizophrenia and proud of it and so when I was sent a summary of new research into the illness, I wanted to share it with you.

As Gina Pitt wrote for Decoded Science this week, researchers have come closer to a “Eureka moment” with the discovery of malfunctioning genes in the brain cells of some people with schizophrenia.  

This was first reported in Science Daily in February. It said that a team lead by Jonathon Sebat PhD,  of the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, had identified a gene mutation which could signal new treatments using existing drugs.  He said: “"In some ways, this is the kind of gene that the pharmaceutical industry has been waiting for”.  The findings were from the journal Nature.

According to the Schizophrenia Research Forum, the American Journal of Psychiatry has suggested that psychiatrist diagnoses shift over time.  From a diagnosis of a psychotic episode, other diagnoses such as drug-induced psychosis, bipolar, schizoaffective disorder and major depressive disorder have been ruled out.

Furthermore, Gina Pitt says that: “By the second year of treatment, 30% of the study participants were diagnosed [with schizophrenia] – a percentage that rose to 50% over a ten year period”.  She says this means categories of mental illnesses are not clearly defined enough and there is significant overlap.

She adds that in America, unlike here in the UK, a substantial number of patients with schizophrenia (to whom she refers as “schizophrenics” – not a term I use or ever wish to be described as because of its negative and stigmatising media connotations) are left untreated.  Indeed I was writing a proposal for a magazine article last night about how 200,000 people with severe mental illnesses, predominantly schizophrenia, are homeless at any given time in the USA.

This is a scandal and is in stark contrast to the enforced treatment and medication compliance regimes in this country (I take oral medication and voluntarily but I don’t regard it as effective – just a safeguard).

In June, there was an article in the Irish Times which I have just read about stem cell research.   The report says this offers more scope, sadly, for investigating the disease than the panacea of an effective treatment or even cure, but it’s important research nevertheless (and I appreciate the ethical dimensions to stem cell research).

As Professor Frank Bary explained to the newspaper, there are three types of stem cell – embryonic, adult and induced – it’s the embryonic cells which are “pluripotent” and can develop into a number of different types of cell, but because of their origins they are considered by many people to be unethical and morally wrong. Adult stem cells are taken from tissue after birth and so do not have the same ethical considerations, and induced cells are “rebooted” from adult cells.

It’s disappointing that this research into schizophrenia is still itself at an embryonic stage and that it only offers potential for research and not a cure.  But please see my blog for my story of what my NHS team describe as my “personal recovery” from schizophrenia for inspiration as to how, with the right support and help (e.g. CBT), and with time, a significant improvement from even the deepest psychosis is now possible.

My Mental Healthy Schizophrenia Blog

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