A study was recently released in Nature looking at genes linked to schizophrenia with the hope of helping researchers to find a whole host of brand new treatments for patients with the illness. Schizophrenia currently accounts for almost 25% of all psychiatric admissions of young people in the UK and current treatments aid in managing the symptoms, however no fundamentally new therapies have been developed since the 1950’s. The study which identified 108 gene loci that are altered in patients with schizophrenia, compared to the controls, has given a new avenue to potential find a cure.
Schizophrenia is known to be heritable but can also be caused by social and environmental factors. The inherited cases are very difficult to treat as genetic causes are unknown and unresponsive to psychotherapy. To aid in finding novel therapies for patients with the familial type of mental illness, this genome wide association study (GWAS) of “36,989 cases and 113,075 controls” has found 108 genes linked to the schizophrenia, 83 of which have not be identified previously.
Genome wide studies are commonly used to identify alterations in genes that are only found in disease patients. The basis of this method is that it sequnces the genomes of all participants and identifies single nucleotide alterations, termed polymorphisms or SNP’s (pronounced snips), that are small variations that can occur in all genes. These small changes in the DNA code can then be further investigated to show how alterations in the genes can cause the disease symptoms. In this study the SNP’s were often located in genes that are expressed in the brain, several of which are involved in neurotransmission which is commonly affected in neurological diseases.
The symptoms of schizophrenia include hallucinations in any of the senses, delusions and depression. The most well-known indicator of the illness is hearing voices which can be very disturbing for patients, especially those of a young age, which often leads to anxiety and isolation that worsens the depression-like symptoms. Medicines currently aim to help in reducing the hallucinations and delusions but cannot cure the condition in inherited cases, they can only manage it.
The new study highlighting previously unknown genes that are different in schizophrenia patients may allow a new range of genome based therapies. The idea of gene therapy has been around since the 1970’s however recently it has been shown that multiple conditions including cancer may be treated in this way. The most common type of gene therapy packages DNA without the disease related SNP’s into a vector so that it can be inserted into the patient’s cells and used by the cellular machinery to replace the mutated or ineffective gene.
News is also being released that a new UK based study named ‘The 100,000 Genomes Project’ is aiming to identify alterations in disease genes, especially in cancer to use genome based therapies and make chemotherapy a thing of the past. It is becoming more apparent that an individual’s DNA may be the key to treating and identifying risk factors in many diseases, with individual and personal therapy looking to be the medicine of the future.
Gene therapies are being developed continuously and with new studies that are identifying more gene targets, research can now expand. Who knows, a cure for conditions such as schizophrenia may not be too far away.
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Schizophrenia Working Group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium (2014). Biological insights from 108 schizophrenia-associated genetic loci. Nature, 511 (7510), 421-7 PMID: 25056061
http://www.sciencedaily.com/videos/d99211426e0cc423d6fe0a8b81e75a0d.htm. Huge Schizophrenia Study Finds Dozens Of New Genetic Causes
Date:July 22, 2014
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