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Huge Schizophrenia Study Finds Dozens Of New Genetic Causes

The 83 new genetic markers could open dozens of new avenues for schizophrenia treatment research.
Posted at 9:10 PM, Jul 22, 2014

A consortium of hundreds of researchers has released what's been dubbed the largest study ever into the genetic causes of mental illness. The illness in focus: schizophrenia.

The study, published in Nature, compared the DNA of around 150,000 individuals spanning clinics all over the world.

They found 108 places on the genome that tend to be different in people with the disease than in people without.

Of those 108, 83 are totally new findings, meaning the possibilities for research into the genetic causes of and treatments for the disease have now more than tripled. 

Schizophrenia affects around 1 percent of the population, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Some of the common symptoms are hallucinations involving any of the five senses, delusions, particularly feelings of persecution, depression-like symptoms like apathy and lack of pleasure, and what the NIMH calls "disorganized thinking."

One of the trademark symptoms is hearing voices. Artist Sue Morgan tried to tell Nature what that's like earlier this year.

"I can hear various conversations, and there's a particular set of conversations which are two people having a telephone conversation and I'm intercepting it."

And CNN's Anderson Cooper got a taste recently when he tried a "schizophrenia simulator."

"It makes you feel completely isolated from everyone else around you. You don't want to engage in conversation with other people, you find yourself wanting to engage in conversation with the voices in your head."

There are drugs that help people manage the hallucinations and delusions, but LiveScience says, "No medications with fundamentally new ways of treating schizophrenia have been developed since the 1950s."

That might change with the help of the new study. And while DNA can't account for all of the risk factors for schizophrenia, the researcher in charge of the study, Michael O'Donovan, told the BBC understanding the genetics is a huge first step.

"What it does do is give the opportunity for lots of further research really firmly based in a solid foundation of knowledge to understand the biology."

The National Institutes of Health estimate the U.S. will spend more than $230 million on schizophrenia research this year.